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Law and Society Review





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While a large body of literature emphasizes the importance of judicial reform in new democracies, few scholars have examined the reform of military justice systems in these settings—despite the potential for these courts to compete directly with civilian courts and subvert the rule of law. This article focuses on Latin America to empirically examine how the process of reforming military courts has played out in each democracy following authoritarian rule. We outline two distinct pathways: (1) unilateral efforts on the part of civilian reformers, and (2) strategic bargains between civilian reformers and the military. Within the unilateral category, we further distinguish efforts driven by civilian courts, those pursued by politicians, and those undertaken in the context of larger political transformations. Ultimately, we find that, absent a dramatic defeat of an authoritarian regime and its armed forces, reform efforts that do not engage and bargain with the military directly often fail to achieve long-term compliance and improvements in human rights practices. The success of such reform efforts, therefore, may come at a cost in other areas of democracy and civil-military relations. We conclude the article by summarizing our findings and reflecting on the lessons they provide for ongoing military justice reform efforts around the globe.


This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article: "Militarized Justice in new Democracies: Explaining the Process of Military Court Reform in Latin America" in Law and Society Review 47(2) 375-407, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

*Winner of the Mildred Potter Hovland Journal Article Prize at UW-Madison