We continue the Latin American Political Economy –LAPE- Seminar Series on April 26th, 2016 with a talk by Dr. Ezequiel Gonzalez-Ocantos (Oxford) entitled:
Shifting Legal Visions: Judicial Change and Human Rights Trials in Latin America
In this talk I will present the argument developed in my book Shifting Legal Visions: Judicial Change and Human Rights Trials in Latin America (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press). The book develops a sociological institutionalist theory of judicial decision making to explain the explosion of human rights trials in Latin America since 2000. The main theoretical postulate is that jurisprudential outcomes reflect the institutionalisation inside the judicial branch of norms and standards of professional conduct, or what I call legal preferences. In order to understand judicial activism in cases of state repression we must explore how this legal cultural lens mediated the way judicial actors perceived the possibilities afforded by highly idiosyncratic suits. In particular, human rights prosecutions required the use of innovative juridical doctrines derived from international human rights law and special investigative protocols to overcome evidentiary limitations, amnesties and the exhaustion of statutes of limitations. But judges and prosecutors socialised in Latin America¹s longstanding formalistic legal culture faced enormous difficulties visualising the paths to truth and justice inspired by these alternative doctrines. As a result, deeply engrained problem solving templates and bureaucratic routines had to be dismantled in order to observe positive outcomes. To explain the ideational transformation that made prison sentences possible the book develops a model of judicial change that emphasises the role of strategic litigants as the conveyor belts of a new legal vision. In those cases where human rights NGOs invested in professionalising their legal teams activists were able to understand the problem posed by traditional legal preferences, deploy appropriate re-socialisation strategies, and ultimately achieve victories in court. The book traces this process and the conditions that made its activation more or less likely using evidence collected in Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay, especially interviews with judges and prosecutors, surveys of judicial actors, archival research in courts and NGOs, and content analysis of rulings.
Dr. Ezequiel González-Ocantos (Ph.D. Notre Dame 2012) is Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations and Professorial Fellow of Nuffield College, at the University of Oxford. His work explores the impact of international human rights law in domestic judicial politics. González-Ocantos is the author of Shifting Legal Visions: Judicial Change and Human Rights Trials in Latin America (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press), as well as of several articles in the American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Politics, Comparative Political Studies, and The International Journal of Human Rights. In 2013 he won the American Political Science Association’s Edward S. Corwin Award for the best doctoral dissertation in the field of Public Law.