Research Project

Briony Smith, Political Science and Spanish

Advisor: Robert Kaufman, Political Science

While conventional transitional justice (TJ) theory suggests that TJ must precede democratic stabilization, the Chilean experience indicates that the reverse is true. TJ has two primary goals (to provide some degree of justice to victims, and to facilitate institutional reforms) and operates on two fundamental postulates (establishing norms will socialize bad actors into the new society, and truth telling creates a process of national catharsis). The report of the Comisión nacional de verdad y reconciliación (National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or, Rettig report) in 1991 attempted to accomplish these goals, but was hampered by concessions to the remnants of the previous authoritarian regime. Throughout the 1990s, efforts toward TJ in Chile stagnated, but Chilean democracy continued to stabilize. By the end of the 1990s, Chilean courts began to reinterpret laws in order to prosecute disappearance cases from the dictatorship. In 2004, the Comisión Nacional Sobre Prisión Política y Tortura (Valech report) released a report that completed the work that the Rettig report had begun. This paper concludes that the Chilean experience reveals that TJ is an ongoing process that is completed following the democratic stabilization of a country. Greater stability permits more complete truth telling and therefore more complete justice.