Challenging Impunity in Domestic Courts: Human Rights Prosecutions in Latin America

THURSDAY, April 10, 2014

6:30 p.m.

“Challenging Impunity in Domestic Courts: Human Rights Prosecutions in Latin America,” A Conversation with Professor Jo-Marie Burt, Co-Director of the Center for Global Studies, Director of Latin American Studies, and Associate Professor in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University, and  Victoria Sanford, professor of anthropology and founding director of the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Lehman College (CUNY), moderated by Irina Carlota Silber, Associate Professor, Anthropology, City College of New York (CUNY)

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Since the first truth commissions began to issue reports on atrocities committed in the Southern Cone during the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, transitional justice has become a cornerstone to building democratic spaces for citizens and bringing pariah states back into the fold of international relations. While hailed by the international community as significant advancements toward reconciliation and justice, the lived experience of citizens in Latin America has been mixed. Some thirty years after the atrocities, including genocide in Guatemala, most intellectual authors and perpetrators of crimes against humanity live with impunity. Or do they? In this conversation, Professors Burt, Sanford and Silber discuss the successes and failures of transitional justice in Latin America. Drawing on their vast experience working on domestic and international human rights cases over the past two decades, they consider the successful prosecutions in Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Guatemala as well as the precedent setting international human rights cases in the Spanish national court. What is the role of the international community in securing justice for victims after dictatorship? Are truth commissions a path to reconciliation and justice? What role does prosecution play?


Dr. Jo-Marie Burt is Co-Director of the Center for Global Studies, Director of Latin American Studies, and Associate Professor in the Depatrment of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University. Dr. Burt has published widely on political violence, human rights, and transitional justice and historical memory in Latin America. She is author of Silencing Civil Society: Political Violence and the Authoritarian State in Peru (Palgrave, 2007) [published in Spanish as Violencia y Autoritarismo en el Perú: Bajo la sombra de Sendero y la dictadura de Fujimori (Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2009 and 2nd ed. 2011)], and is co-editor of Politics in the Andes: Identity, Conflict, Reform (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004). In 2002-3, Dr. Burt was a researcher for the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in 2006, and in 2010 the “Alberto Flores Galindo” Visiting Professor again at Catholic University in Peru. She is currently conducting research on domestic human rights prosecutions in Latin America and directs the Human Rights Trials in Peru Project. As part of her research, she has been an international observer to the human rights trials of former heads of state Alberto Fujimori in Peru and Jose Efrain Rios Montt in Guatemala. Dr. Burt is a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University.

Dr. Victoria Sanford is professor of anthropology at Lehman College where she is founding director of the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies.  She serves on the Doctoral Faculty at the City University of New York Graduate Center.  She is a Research Associate at Columbia University’s Center for International Conflict Resolution and an Affiliated Scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights.  She holds a doctorate in Anthropology from Stanford University where she studied International Human Rights Law at Stanford Law School and she holds a certificate in Human Rights Law from the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica. She is the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Bunting Peace Fellowship at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, a United States Institute for Peace grant, a Fulbright Teaching/Research Award, and a Rockefeller Fellowship, among others. She is the author of Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala (2003),Violencia y Genocidio en Guatemala (2003), Guatemala: Del Genocidio al Feminicidio(2008),  La Masacre de Panzos: Etnicidad, Tierra y Violencia en Guatemala (2009), and co-author of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation’s report to the Commission for Historical Clarification (the Guatemalan truth commission). In August of 2012, she served as an invited expert witness on the Guatemalan genocide before Judge Santiago Pedraz in the Spanish National Court’s international genocide case against the Guatemalan generals. She is currently writing This is How It Works ~ Violence & Traumatic Memory Across Generations.


Dr. Irina Carlota (Lotti) Silber is associate professor of anthropology at City College of New York. She is also currently a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at the CUNY Graduate Center. Dr. Silber’s overarching work explores postwar processes in one of El Salvador’s former warzones and a region known for its peasant revolutionary participation. This longitudinal project is also a study of the Salvadoran diaspora.

Her work has been supported by various grants including a Rockefeller Fellowship, and has been published in journals such as Gender & History, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Anthropology & Humanism. She is the author of Everyday Revolutionaries: Gender, Violence, and Disillusionment in Postwar El Salvador(2011) which received the 2013 International Latino Book Award in the Best First Book, Nonfiction category. She is also the recipient of the First Prize in Poetry from the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropological Association.



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