After Amnesties are Gone: Latin American National Courts and the New Contours of the Fight Against Impunity
Human Rights Quarterly, Forthcoming
50 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2014
Date Written: 2014
Latin America is the one region that, in the wake of massive and systematic violations of human rights, has made inroads into trying these crimes in national courts. After decades in which cases were dismissed on grounds of amnesty, statutes of limitations, or other impediments to trial, these barriers have, in a majority of countries, fallen. This turnaround — while fragile and incomplete — is remarkable. It provides important, and inspirational, lessons for lawyers, judges and advocates in other regions, and for international justice efforts.
Cases involving international crimes in the courts of Latin American countries have gone through distinct phases. In the first, advocates confronted barriers to bringing the cases into court at all. In the second, current phase, courts are facing the challenges of organizing trials that involve hundreds of defendants and victims, or using the elements of crimes like genocide to show the overall patterns of atrocity. A final, emerging phase shifts the focus from trial to punishment. This phase has led to creative — and controversial — propositions about reduced sentences, suspended sentences, and alternatives to imprisonment in cases involving international crimes.
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