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Past studies have identified the spread of international human rights norms and waves of democratization as two major forces that facilitate human rights protection. Less well-known is the process of how legal professionals exploit these macro-level opportunities to promote human rights in new democracies. In this study of torture in South Korea, I show that the practice of torture disappeared only through the efforts of lawyers and judges to establish the rule of law. Specifically, I identify three reforms that enhanced accountability of state agencies: judicial independence, lawyers' participation in criminal proceedings and the establishment of the Human Rights Commission.