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How has Latin America pioneered the field of transitional justice (TJ)? Do approaches vary across the region? This Element describes Latin American innovations in trials and truth commissions, and evaluates two influential models that explain variation in TJ outcomes: the Huntingtonian and Justice Cascade approaches. It argues that scholars should complement these approaches with one that recognizes the importance of state capacity building and institutional change. To translate domestic/international political pressure and human rights norms into outcomes, states must develop 'TJ capabilities'. Not only should states be willing to pursue these highly complex policies, they must also develop competent bureaucracies.
What explains the success of criminal prosecutions against former Latin American officials accused of human rights violations? Why did some judiciaries evolve from unresponsive bureaucracies into protectors of victim rights? Using a theory of judicial action inspired by sociological institutionalism, this book argues that this was the result of deep transformations in the legal preferences of judges and prosecutors. Judicial actors discarded long-standing positivist legal criteria, historically protective of conservative interests, and embraced doctrines grounded in international human rights law, which made possible innovative readings of constitutions and criminal codes. Litigants were responsible for this shift in legal visions by activating informal mechanisms of ideational change and providing the skills necessary to deal with complex and unusual cases. Through an in-depth exploration of the interactions between judges, prosecutors and human rights lawyers in three countries, the book asks how changing ideas about the law and standards of adjudication condition the exercise of judicial power.