UCL Institute of the Americas


 Dr Francesca Lessa

Dr Francesca Lessa

Associate Professor in International Relations of the Americas


INCLUSION CO-LEAD (shared role)

YEAR ABROAD TUTOR (shared role)


Francesca Lessa is Associate Professor in International Relations of the Americas at University College London (UCL), where she is affiliated to the UCL - Institute of the Americas. Previously, between 2011 and 2023, she held various roles at the University of Oxford, including Departmental Lecturer in Latin American Studies and Development (2020-2023) and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellow (2016-2020). Francesca earned a PhD in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science in 2010. She also completed an MA in International Studies and Diplomacy at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a BA in European Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. Francesca is Italian by birth and upbringing, but she has lived in the UK since 1999. She loves tango, and many of her Uruguayan friends are convinced that she lived in the Río de la Plata in a previous life.

Research Summary

Francesca’s research agenda focuses on international relations, human rights, and transitional justice, with a geographical focus on South America. She is an internationally recognised expert on Operation Condor and the politics of human rights trials.

Her latest book, The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America, was the winner of the 2023 Juan Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America and received an honourable mention for the 2023 Bryce Wood Book Award of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). The Condor Trials has also been published in Spanish, Italian, and a French translation is forthcoming in 2024.

Dr Lessa’s collaborative research on Operation Condor with local partners in South America achieved high levels of impact and was highly commended in the O2RB Excellence in Impact Awards 2021 for improving routes to justice for victims of transnational human rights violations in South America. Dr Lessa has been an expert witness before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Rome’s Criminal Courts, and Chile’s Supreme Court in trials relating to Operation Condor.

Since 2022, she has been the coordinator and principal researcher of plancondor.org. This open access and multi-language platform collates in a single place several sources of information on Operation Condor, including archival documents, verdicts in criminal cases, an interactive map of victims, statistical reports and infographics, an interactive timeline with key events, and three audiovisual productions. This project is jointly created and developed with three civil society groups from the Southern Cone: Sitios de Memoria Uruguay and Observatorio Luz Ibarburu in Uruguay, and Londres 38 in Chile.

Francesca’s research interests also include: thepolitics of memory and transitional justice; state compliance with international human rights treaties; the role of digital technology in securing and promoting human rights; international environmental politics and the Escazú Agreement; and the role of human rights and environmental defenders.

Her work has been published in top academic journals, including Human Rights Quarterly, Latin American Research Review, Journal of Latin American Studies, International Journal of Transitional Justice, and Journal of Human Rights Practice.

Teaching Summary


AMER0104 The International Relations of the Americas

AMER0053 Research Methods

AMER0039 Introduction to Politics

Postgraduate Taught:

AMER0105 (In)Security in the Americas: Transnational Challenges

AMER0057 Researching the Americas

AMER0097 International Development: Theory, Policy, and Practice

Research Supervision

Dr Lessa welcomes applications from students wishing to undertake doctoral research broadly falling in the following areas: human rights, international relations, global environmental politics, environmental justice, international security, the politics of memory, and transitional justice.

Media Appearances

Francesca has frequently been interviewed on human rights trials and transitional justice for the media. She has featured in The New York Times, the BBC, The Guardian and in media outlets in the Southern Cone, including Página12 and Buenos Aires Herald (Argentina), La Diaria and Busqueda (Uruguay), BBC Brasil, and Radio Cooperativa and Radio Universidad de Chile (Chile). She has written op-eds for The Conversation and The Washington Post.


The Condor Trials: Transnational Repression and Human Rights in South America | book publisher's webpage

2023 Juan Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America | Duke Human Rights Center@the Franklin Humanities Institute

2023 Bryce Wood Book Award | Latin American Studies Association (LASA) webpage

Unravelling Operation Condor , a campaign of state terror in 1970s South America | project-related video on University of Oxford Youtube channel

Operation Condor | University of Oxford Research Impact webpage

O2RB Excellence in Impact Awards 2021 | University of Oxford news item

Inter-American Court of Human Rights | webpage

Rome’s Criminal Courts | University of Oxford news item