Judging from a Guilty Conscience: The Chilean Judiciary's Human Rights Turn



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Corrigendum Volume 35, Issue 2, 559, Article first published online: March 2010

Alexandra Huneeus is Assistant Professor of Law and Legal Studies at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She can be reached at huneeus@wisc.edu. Many thanks to Robert A. Kagan, Diana Kapiszewski, Javier A. Couso, David Sugarman, and Alejandra Mera; to participants in the Comparative Law Work-in-Progress Workshop, held at Princeton University, February 2009; and to the three anonymous reviewers; I also thank the Diego Portales Law School faculty for its hospitality. This research was funded by the Simpson Memorial Research Fellowship in International and Comparative Studies, and the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at the University of California, Berkeley. I am particularly grateful to the judges who gave so generously of their time.


Since the detention of General Pinochet in London in 1998 on charges of crimes against humanity, Chile's judges have sentenced more former officials of the military regime for human rights violations than judges of any other country in Latin America. This article argues that the prosecutorial turn reflects the judiciary's attempt to atone for its complicity with the dictatorship. The London arrest created pressure for prosecution of Pinochet-era human rights violations; but it is the contest over the judiciary's legacy, as an important piece of postauthoritarian memory struggles, that explains why Chile's notoriously illiberal judiciary ceded to that pressure. By reconceptualizing judicial culture as contested, heterogeneous, and dynamic, this article opens the door to richer understandings of judicial politics, transitional justice, and the reception of international human rights.