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Between National Law and International Norms: The Political Transformation of Human Rights in Argentina, 1955-83


This dissertation examines Argentina’s late twentieth-century transition from military authoritarianism to democracy in the broader context of the globalization of ideas about international human rights. With a focus on events between 1955 and 1983, I explain how Argentines came to create and support a human rights-based conception of the rule of law and, specifically, the criminal prosecution of their country’s former de facto leaders.

I approach this question by reconstructing an aspect of Argentine legal and political culture that has been overlooked in existing scholarship: public debates led by the country’s prominent and politically diverse lawyers over constitutionalism, revolution, national security, and universal rights. Integrating national history and the history of globalization, I argue that the remaking of Argentine democracy was part of a late twentieth-century globalization of legal order whereby legal advocates and their nonlawyer allies wielded international human rights norms not to transcend the state, as is frequently claimed, but to transform it. This national transformation, constrained by the political and legal legacies of state violence, ultimately produced a paler version of democracy than many Argentines had once envisioned but one that nonetheless served to restrain the violence of the state against its citizens. Human rights were themselves transformed in the process: a law and politics of resistance to the state became instead the state-sponsored initiative to try perpetrators of “dirty war” abuses, an initiative that continues today, along with resistance to it.

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