More than twenty years after the return to democratic rule in Latin America, the military in many countries in the region are now being prosecuted for gross human rights violations, such as torture, murder, forced disappearance, the kidnapping of babies - even genocide.

What has made these trials possible? Cath Collins gives an overview of the shift from impunity to accountability for past human rights violations in the region, whereas Catalina Smulovitz gives details on the strategies opted for in Argentina to hold the military accountable for past atrocities.

Cath Collins is Professor of Transitional Justice, School of Law, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland and Directora del Observatorio DDHH, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago de Chile

Catalina Smulovitz is Plenary Professor in Political Science at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, Buenos Aires, Argentina and a Conicet researcher.

Collins: 'Beyond Impunity: Human rights trials and (post-)transitional accountability in Latin America'?Since the mid to late 1990s Latin America has become the world's leading region in prosecuting past atrocities in domestic courts. From Central American post-conflict settings to the classic post-authoritarian cases of Chile and Argentina, state and - to a lesser extent - non state perpetrators of past atrocity are being formally held to account at national level. This move has allowed for regional knowledge transfer and 'demonstration effects' between settings, with Argentina often leading the way. It has produced reaction from perpetrators and their institutions, and has caused debates about the relationship between domestic judicial reform and the status of amnesty. The role of the Inter-American human rights system has also come into focus as national dynamics unfold. This presentation will set the scene for a closer examination of the Argentinian case by outlining some of the major issues that late trials are raising across the region'


Catalina Smulovitz: ‘"The past is never past": Accountability and justice for past human rights violations in Argentina'

Latin America rulers of democratic transitions faced a disquieting challenge: How to make members of the Armed Forces accountable for their past human rights violations? Should they punish or pardon them? While 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 way this dilemma is solved is not only a problem about the past; 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. The way Latin American countries initially confronted the question was diverse. This presentation focuses on Argentina, showing that the measures implemented since 1983 comprise the complete repertoire of procedures included in the transitional justice menu. It analyses the diverse strategies pursued to make human rights violators accountable and the different justice outcomes achieved by the victims throughout the process. It considers the conditions that led to the early judicial treatment of past human rights violations, the succession of strategies and measures implemented to overcome the restrictions that emerged in the process and the political dynamic and consequences of these two developments. It also shows that this highly politicized process resulted in diverse "justice outcomes", in the subordination of the military  to civilian rule, and in the transformation of human rights issues as a political programme of the new democracy.


Elin Skaar (CMI): Discussant

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