Human Rights Review

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 3–16 | Cite as

Explaining judicial reform outcomes in new democracies: The importance of authoritarian legalism in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile

  • Anthony W. Pereira


Recent judicial reforms after democratic transition have been substantial and relatively successful in Chile, but much less so in Argentina and Brazil. This article traces this variation in outcomes to the legal strategies of the prior authoritarian regimes. The Brazilian military regime of 1964–1985 was gradualist in its approach to the law, and had a high degree of civilian-military consensus in the legal sphere. It was not highly repressive in its deployment of lethal violence, and this combination of factors contributed to a gradualist and consensual transition in which judicial reform was not placed high on the political agenda. The Argentine case of military rule between 1976 and 1983 was almost the opposite. The military sidestepped and even attacked the judiciary, engaging in almost entirely extrajudicial violence. This generated a “backlash” reform movement after the transition to democracy that was mostly retrospective and only partially successful. In Chile, in contrast, the military engineered a radical break with previous legality, engaged in violent repression, but made considerable efforts to reconstruct a judicial order. It was in the aftermath of this situation that reformers were able to push through a prospective and relatively successful judicial reform. This article's findings suggest that judicial reform may be more likely to succeed where the prior authoritarian regime was both repressive and legalistic, as in Chile, Poland, and South Africa, than where high degrees of repression were applied largely extrajudicially, as in Argentina, Cambodia, and Guatemala, or where the authoritarian regime was legalistic but not highly repressive, as in Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines.


Authoritarian Regime Democratic Transition Military Regime Authoritarian Rule Truth Commission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer 2003

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  • Anthony W. Pereira

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