Uruguay passed the Ley de Caducidad de la Pretensión Punitiva del Estado (Law on the Expiration of the Punitive Claims of the States or Law of Expiry) in December 1986, which provided amnesty for all members of the military and security personnel involved in crimes during the nation’s military rule (1973–1985). A referendum in 1989 democratically affirmed the law, producing a silencing about accountability efforts in Uruguay in subsequent years. As such, much of the literature that emerged in the 1990s about the field of transitional justice excluded Uruguay, considering it a failure to engage with justice initiatives. Since 2000, however, Uruguay has followed a winding path toward employing accountability measures. This has included a difficult process of overturning its amnesty law, some selected domestic court cases, as well as some truth-telling initiatives, reparations, and memorialization. Overall, Uruguay’s experience and evolution toward engaging transitional justice initiatives represent a nonlinear progress of accountability that depended on a combination of domestic political will, friendly courts or judges, international legal and norm shifts, and sustained civil society activism.1 Both Uruguay’s eventual engagement with justice initiatives and expanding ideas about what constitutes transitional justice have driven the country’s re-emergence in scholarship within the field of transitional justice. Uruguay’s thirty-five-year battle Offers an example of a non-teleological path of transitional justice. Additionally, the case of Uruguay urges consideration of understanding the longer timeframes that justice might take to achieve, even in stable democracies.
The struggle for transitional justice in Brazil has faced various roadblocks since the country’s return to democracy in the mid-1980s. The military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964 to 1985 employed brutal political repression against civilians deemed “subversives.” For years, however, the state had persistently disregarded claims to hold perpetrators accountable. This was mostly the result of an extremely negotiated and military-controlled transition to democracy, marked by political continuities and legal impunity to human rights violators. Effective campaigns by civil society organizations and families of the dictatorship’s victims finally led the Brazilian state to implement constrained policies of transitional justice. Between 1995 and 2010, the state officially recognized the dictatorship’s practices of torture and forced disappearance, as well as offered reparations to the victims. A national truth commission was ultimately established in 2012, culminating in an extensive final report that illuminated the dictatorship’s systemic repression and recommended holding its key perpetrators accountable. Yet the Brazilian armed forces strongly repudiated the commission’s work and actively curbed attempts to prosecute human rights violators. Frustrated by the state’s protracted implementation of transitional justice, human rights advocates sought alternative routes to accountability and truth-seeking. Some pressured professional organizations to discipline members complicit in the dictatorship’s repression. Others formed local truth commissions in municipalities, universities, unions, and corporations across the country to broaden and enhance the work of the national commission. Brazil thus experienced a particularly gradual and decentralized trajectory of transitional justice.
Since its establishment in 1889, the history of the Brazilian republic was marked by the centrality of the armed forces, particularly the army, in political life. But between 1964 and 1985, the military was in direct command of the state, imposing indirectly elected generals as president. After overthrowing the reformist center-left government of João Goulart on March 31, 1964, the military installed a tutelary authoritarian regime to control civil society and the political system, serving as a political model for similar regimes in Latin America during the Cold War. The military passed arbitrary laws and severely repressed left-wing political groups and social movements while also seeking to accelerate capitalist development and the “national integration” of Brazil’s vast territory. They intended to modernize Brazilian industry and carry out bold infrastructure projects. On the other hand, they faced strong opposition from civil society, led by political groups, artists, intellectuals, and press outlets of diverse ideological backgrounds (Marxists, liberals, socialists, and progressive Catholics). These groups were divided between total refusal to negotiate with the military and critical adherence to the policies of the generals’ governments, composing a complex relationship between society and the state. Understanding the role of the military regime in Brazilian history requires a combination of historical research and historiographic criticism in light of the disputes over memory that continue to divide social and political actors.
From 2001 to 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación del Perú, or CVR) investigated and reported on human rights abuses committed in Peru by state forces and insurgents between 1980 and 2000. That twenty-year armed internal conflict began when militants of the Peruvian Communist Party-Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) launched an armed struggle against the Peruvian State. The smaller MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) waged a separate armed struggle from 1984 until 1997. Peru’s armed forces, police, and peasant civil defense patrols carried out a counterinsurgency that lasted until the collapse of Alberto Fujimori’s authoritarian regime in 2000. The CVR’s official mandate was to analyze why the violence occurred, determine the scale of victimization, assess responsibility, propose reparations, and recommend preventative reforms. The CVR collected nearly seventeen thousand testimonies about the violence, including harrowing stories of massacres, disappearances, torture, and sexual abuse. The CVR also held twenty-seven public hearings, broadcast on Peruvian television and radio. Commissioners determined that the death toll from the armed internal conflict was 69,280. This number was more than twice as high as previous estimates. The CVR established that 79 percent of the victims lived in rural areas, and 75 percent of the dead spoke Quechua or another Indigenous language as their first language. Commissioners also determined that the PCP-Shining Path was responsible for 54 percent of the reported deaths. The Final Report recommended institutional reforms including changes to Peru’s educational system, limits on military autonomy, changes to policing, and greater controls over intelligence agencies. It also made a series of recommendations regarding individual and collective reparations, as well as judicial actions. These conclusions and recommendations appear in the CVR’s Final Report, a nine-volume analysis of the violence, totaling about eight thousand pages. Commissioners forwarded forty-five cases to the Peruvian Attorney General’s office (Ministerio Público) and two cases to the Peruvian Judiciary (Poder Judicial) for investigation and possible criminal trials. Most of these cases, however, stalled in the courts. The most significant exception to these frustrated legal efforts was the trial of former president Alberto Fujimori, who was found guilty of human rights abuses and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. The CVR proved highly controversial inside Peru. Many Peruvians argued that reconciliation would be tantamount to forgiving and forgetting terrorists’ crimes. Another heated controversy involved the accusation that the CVR was unduly sympathetic to the Shining Path and unfairly critical of the Peruvian military. Although the CVR’s work galvanized civil society, the return to power of political and military figures sharply criticized in the Final Report has led many observers to question the Truth Commission’s impact. There has also been significant disappointment with the CVR because it generated expectations for compensation and sociopolitical transformation that have not been met.