Those landmark cases where courts have assertively defended the rights of poor, vulnerable, or insular groups-such as homosexuals, refugees, or indigenous peoples-even in the face of social hostility and indifference, have generated considerable interest in the role of courts as protectors of the marginalized.

What role can and do courts play in protecting the interests and rights of vulnerable groups? Why do some marginalized groups succeed in having their rights recognized by the courts, while others fail? What makes some judiciaries more activist and receptive to their concerns and others less so?

The four articles presented in this symposium originated in an interdisciplinary workshop held in Santiago, Chile, in December 2005, which attempted to answer these questions. The focus of the workshop was on new democracies in Africa and Latin America, but participants also drew on the experiences of more developed and stable legal systems in Europe.

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