Central America, the Inter-American System, and Accountability for International Crimes

26 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2012 Last revised: 21 Nov 2012

Date Written: June 1, 2012


Central America is a hard case for proving the existence of a “justice cascade," that is, a strong tendency towards increased accountability for gross human rights violations. Despite having the largest numbers of Latin American victims of the repression and internal armed conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s, El Salvador and Guatemala are among the places where it has been most difficult for a consistent accountability norm to take root. So it was particularly noteworthy that in January 2012 a Guatemalan judge indicted the country’s former strongman, ex-General Efrain Rios Montt, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. Rios Montt joins several other high-ranking former officers in the dock, while a number of lower-ranked soldiers have been sentenced to long prison terms for their role in massacres and disappearances.

This book chapter discusses the evolution of the accountability norm in Guatemala, from almost total impunity to the filing of genocide charges. It considers in particular the key role of the Inter-American system in helping define and push forward that evolution. The article then briefly compares the Guatemalan case to events in El Salvador, and then draws some tentative conclusions.

Keywords: transitional justice, prosecutions, Central America, impunity, Guatemala, El Salvador

Suggested Citation

Roht-Arriaza, Naomi, Central America, the Inter-American System, and Accountability for International Crimes (June 1, 2012). UC Hastings Research Paper No. 6, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2126313 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2126313

Naomi Roht-Arriaza (Contact Author)

UC Law, San Francisco ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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