After Amnesties are Gone: Latin American National Courts and the new Contours of the Fight Against Impunity
Abstract

ABSTRACT:

Latin America is the one region that, in the wake of massive and systematic violations of human rights, has made inroads into trying such 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 fallen in a majority of countries. 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 experienced distinct phases. In the first phase, advocates confronted barriers to bringing the cases into court at all. In the second and 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 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.