The politics of human rights prosecutions : civil military relations during the Alfonsín presidency, 1983-1989

Esparza, Gabrielle Renae
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This project examines the evolution of President Raúl Alfonsín’s human rights policies from his candidacy to his presidency. Alfonsín’s election in 1983 followed Argentina’s most repressive dictatorship and marked the country’s return to democracy. This democratic transition occurred at the beginning of a wave of similar shifts from military to civilian rule throughout Latin America. As a result, the Argentine experience heavily influenced the transitional justice scholarship that emerged in the 1990s. Argentina pioneered new methods of addressing state sponsored human rights violations during Alfonsín’s administration. Never Again, the first published truth commission report became an international model, and more than thirty countries have followed Argentina’s example since 1983. Alfonsín also ordered criminal prosecution of military generals for human rights violations. The trials respected legal codes and due process in order to demonstrate the law’s ability to address wrongdoing. Such efforts helped reestablish trust in judicial processes. These mechanisms applied early in Alfonsín’s term revolutionized the field of transitional justice, but the later years of his presidency limited this initial momentum toward accountability through the authorization of Full Stop and Due Obedience laws. Both measures, dictated under military pressure, narrowed the scope of the trials in order to ensure democratic stability. President Alfonsín had dedicated himself to overcoming Argentina’s legacy of authoritarianism and emphasized democratization as the main goal of the country’s transition. No president had completed his or her mandate against the wishes of the armed forces since 1928. In light of these political realities, Alfonsín made prudent decisions to achieve his legislative goals without undermining democratic processes and institutions. This approach marked a clear break with the past and sought to model democratic governance. Alfonsín’s methods also demonstrated that democracy, even when producing complicated and uneven policy victories, had the power to address social problems.