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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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“The past is never dead”: Accountability and justice for past human rights violations in Argentina

In Latin America, rulers of democratic transitions face a disquieting challenge: how to make members of the armed forces accountable for their past human rights violations. Should they punish or pardon them? Whereas punishment could trigger revolts by armed forces against the new democratic regime, pardons could endanger the legitimacy of the new democracy and its ability to do justice and to subordinate the military to civilian rule. The consolidation of democracy implies equality before the law and respect for human rights, but the new regimes also need the collaboration of armed forces that still vindicate the repressive strategies they used, that still command strong resources with which to revolt, and that could threaten the regime’s survival. The way this dilemma is solved is not just a problem about the past (how to treat past human rights violations); it also affects the present and future of the new regimes. And it is relevant not only for its ethical implications but also because it could determine the success or failure of the democratic processes.

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