Human Rights and Societies in Transition: Causes, Consequences, Responses

By Shale Horowitz; Albrecht Schnabel | Go to book overview

17
Human rights, the military, and
the transition to democracy in
Argentina and South Korea

Terence Roehrig

During the 1960s, numerous countries around the world experienced the tragedy of military-led coups d'etat and the imposition of rule by the armed forces. Over time, these regimes accumulated long lists of human rights abuses, including kidnapping, torture, and execution. Two such cases were Argentina and South Korea: in both instances, these regimes were responsible for serious human rights violations carried out by military and security forces, although with differences in the scope and methods of the violations. The abuses also largely resulted from perceived political and economic threats to these countries – threats emanating from both internal and external sources. Finally, the legacy of human rights abuses complicated the transition to democracy, which both countries began in the 1980s as part of what Samuel Huntington called the "Third Wave" transitions.1 Specifically, these governments faced two important questions: (1) should members of the previous military regime be prosecuted for past human rights abuses, and (2) can these trials occur without disrupting the transition to democracy? Although in both cases the new civilian governments attempted to prosecute their former military leaders, each case had different results and different consequences for the protection of human rights.

Two important conclusions seem evident from an analysis of these two cases: first, the human rights violations in Argentina and South Korea were based primarily on political divisions, as opposed to more deeply rooted racial, ethnic, and/or religious differences; second, these two cases

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