Jonas Wolff | 2023

Human Rights Movements across Latin America

In: The Oxford Handbook of Latin American Social Movements, pp 422-438.


When research on social movements in Latin America started to take off in the 1980s, human rights movements were an important topic reliably dealt with in the scholarly work of that time (Calderón 1986a; Eckstein 1989; Jelin 1985; Mainwaring and Viola 1984). This reflected the legacy of the military dictatorships, which had shaped (and, in cases such as Chile, continued to shape) the structures and dynamics of social organization and mobilization as they evolved during the 1980s. On the one hand, the experience of brutal state repression meant that the protection of basic civil rights became a central concern for social activists and movements across Latin America (Foweraker 1995: 28). On the other, in quite a few countries in the region, human rights movements were key actors that opened up spaces for other civil society groups (Calderón 1986b: 374) and contributed to the delegitimization and eventual end of military rule (Brysk 1994; Cleary 1997; Keck and Sikkink 1998; Orellana and Hutchinson 1991; see Inclán in this volume).
Throughout the 1990s, Latin American human rights movements continued to receive scholarly attention. 1 Contributions on the human rights movements in the region also shaped global academic debates, while Latin American experiences of human rights activism diffused to other world regions (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Kelly 2018; Moyn 2010). Key examples include the role of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and other human rights organizations in challenging the military dictatorship in Argentina (Brysk 1994; Keck and Sikkink 1998) as well as the push of human rights activists for transitional justice following the …

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