Author Bio

J. Patrice McSherry, Ph.D. in Political Science specializing in Latin American politics, is Professor Emeritus at Long Island University. She is currently an affiliated scholar with the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Santiago, Chile. She has written several books, numerous articles, and book chapters on transitions to democracy, the role of the military, Operation Condor, and impunity. Her most recent book is Chilean New Song: The Political Power of Music, 1960s-1973 (Temple University Press, 2015). She thanks profes-sors William Felice and Raúl Molina for their valuable comments on the first draft.


As Latin American countries moved from military dictatorship to civilian government in the 1980s, a burning issue was how to deal with the massive repression and grave human rights violations of the recent past. Should there be an effort to hold perpetrators accountable, or simply “turn the page?” This article documents and analyzes the history of the NGO Coalition Against Impunity and its role in advocating for the United Nations (U.N.) to recognize impunity—or, the negation of accountability—as a serious human rights issue. The combined efforts of dedicated human rights leaders and organizations in Latin America, other NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and the Coalition spurred the U.N. and other bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to take up the issue of impunity in their documents and missions. The work of the Coalition is presented as an example of the incremental democratization of the United Nations system.

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