NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 84, Number 1

April 2009

New Dirty War Judgments in Argentina: National Courts and Domestic Prosecutions of International Human Rights Violations

Margarita K. O’Donnell

A new approach to national interpretations of international law suggests that, to be successful, national courts must engage in flexible, culturally conscious translations of international norms. Transitional justice projects, however, pose a challenge to this approach. This Note proposes that when criminal prosecutions function as truth-seeking processes, the ability of domestic groups to influence how national courts interpret international law is heightened. In these instances, nonstate actors understandably attempt to capitalize on courts’ awareness of the critical role legal judgments play in engendering national reconciliation in order to secure favorable legal outcomes. Accordingly, courts have the challenge of adjudicating egregious human rights violations while also complying with the strict limitations of international criminal law. This Note suggests that the exigencies of transitional justice may lead national courts to issue interpretations that deviate from the existing body of international law. It examines this thesis through the lens of recent criminal prosecutions in Argentina for massive human rights violations during the Dirty War, in which a federal court greatly expanded the legal definition of genocide, contradicting long-standing international jurisprudence.