26, August, 2013

Judicial Reviews: An Innovative Mechanism to Enforce Human Rights in Latin America

Through ground-breaking rulings, judges in Latin America are driving social change by ordering governments to restore and enforce human rights.

Due to persistent and systematic human rights violations, lawsuits have increasingly been brought before various Latin American courts. In some cases, courts have made pioneering rulings ordering governments to allocate budget resources and implement specific public policies aimed at enforcing and protecting human rights. This Brief focuses on three successful cases from Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico, where the judiciary made innovative rulings to restore and enforce the right to education, to an adequate policy for internally displaced people and to health, respectively. In particular, this Brief highlights the way that judicial reviews are transforming processes of justice in Latin America, including the role of judges as agents of social change and the importance of organised coalitions in providing legal support to victims. Since judicial reviews have evolved considerably in Latin America over recent years, human rights practitioners from other regions will likely benefit from learning about the particular characteristics of this phenomenon in Latin America.

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Key Lessons:

  • Judicial rulings can provide an effective tool for enforcing and restoring human rights, particularly if they clearly specify the actions that the state should implement and a timeline for doing so.
  • Rulings are most likely to be fulfilled if the judiciary maintains the jurisdiction to monitor compliance and creates monitoring systems and mechanisms for public participation. Continuous monitoring by the court maintains pressure on the government to act, while participatory mechanisms ensure that plaintiffs and public agencies have a space for dialogue.
  • Writs of amparo or injunctions are more likely to be compelling if they are grounded in strong legal arguments of human rights violations and in sound evidence of the nature and impact of these violations.
  • Social mobilisation and support can put pressure on the judiciary and get human rights onto the public agenda, enhancing the chances of a favourable ruling.

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