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After Oppression

Transitional Justice in Latin America and Eastern Europe

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The decline of authoritarianism in Latin America and Eastern Europe marked the end of a dark chapter in the history of these societies. In both regions, transition to democracy was accompanied by distinct efforts to come to terms with the traumatic experiences of the past and to demand accountability from the oppressors. The impact of these efforts rippled far beyond national boundaries, expanding the frontiers of international justice, and yielding indelible lessons and inspiration.

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Transitional justice: Reframing the debate

Any democratic transition raises public debate about the nature and defects of the preceding regime. This is especially inevitable when there is a legacy of widespread human rights abuse and the legitimate voices of the victims have been suppressed. In such instances, a democratic transition will require some strategy for addressing these legacies. If a sector of the population is not “reintegrated” into a new democratic dispensation through the recognition of their prior violent exclusion and suffering, the new democratic polity will be fragmented and incomplete. As Alexander Wilde (1999) and others have noted, if such needs are suppressed or forcefully postponed, later on they may lead to “irruptions of memory” with destabilizing consequences. So, however problematic and contested such practices may be, they are also inescapable in real transitions.

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