Transitional Justice in Latin America: Achievements and Limitations

Forthcoming in Meierhenrich, Hinton and Douglas, The Oxford Handbook of Transitional Justice (OUP, 2019)

UC Hastings Research Paper No. 309

21 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2018 Last revised: 10 Dec 2018

Date Written: November 9, 2018


Latin America has been a pioneer in the justifications, techniques and analysis of transitional justice. Organized civil society movements, especially families of those killed and disappeared and activist lawyers and journalists, have pushed governments – with or without an actual shift of power – to establish truth commissions, investigate and try the worst crimes, create administrative reparations programs, memorialize the victims, and propose (and sometimes implement) changes to the security forces and judicial system. In many ways, these efforts have been innovative and successful, and have served as models for post-conflict efforts elsewhere.

But as time has gone on, their limitations have become increasingly clear. Transitional justice techniques have been unable to stem the tide of natural resource extraction and land concentration that gives rise to forced displacement, environmental depredations and attacks on environmental activists and human rights defenders. They have proven helpless against rising crime of various varieties, that make the region the most violent in the world. And they have been unable to prevent and tackle the hollowing out, capture and reconfiguration of the state itself as a vehicle for political and personal corruption. Moreover, they have often been distant from the lived experience of the actors involved, especially those who live far from capital cities and who have relied more on localized, site-specific ways of coming to terms with the legacies of repression and armed conflict.

This chapter first lays out, in summary form, some of the most salient contributions of the region to the theory and practice of transitional justice. It then develops an argument for why these contributions are nonetheless inadequate to avoid, or even mitigate, the sources of continuing concern raised above. It concludes with some thoughts on what it would take for transitions to tackle these factors, in a way that is more transformative of peoples’ lives.

Suggested Citation

Roht-Arriaza, Naomi, Transitional Justice in Latin America: Achievements and Limitations (November 9, 2018). Forthcoming in Meierhenrich, Hinton and Douglas, The Oxford Handbook of Transitional Justice (OUP, 2019), UC Hastings Research Paper No. 309, Available at SSRN:

Naomi Roht-Arriaza (Contact Author)

UC Law, San Francisco ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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