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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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Accountability, the rule of law and transitional justice in Latin America

This chapter explores the connections between the different paths of transitional justice in Latin America and the rule of law and judicial reform processes that have taken place in much of the region over the past two decades. For the most part, transitional justice experiences and rule of law reform have been studied as parallel and separate processes, with some recent exceptions (Collins, 2008; Skaar, 2010). However, transitional justice in many ways presupposes minimum rule of law standards, and advances in the rule of law involve precisely a greater commitment to addressing issues of legal accountability for those in positions of political power. The chapter, then, explores the connections between these two processes, looking at how past and present accountability are related to the state’s capacity to deliver minimal rule of law standards, and how this has evolved in Latin America in recent times. To the extent that justice sector reform has improved the effectiveness of accountability mechanisms, what is the impact that this has had on transitional justice processes as these have evolved’ Where the different actors promoting transitional justice seek to go beyond the establishment of truth commissions and achieve some level of judicial accountability, this requires that courts be minimally receptive to cases dealing with human rights abuses committed in the past and that they be minimally credible and capable of guaranteeing a measure of due process. In turn, developments in transitional justice can have an impact on how members of the judicial system re-position themselves over time with regard to cases of human rights crimes.

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