The Last Mile Problem: Activists, Advocates, and the Struggle for Justice in Domestic Courts

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The ability of a state to protect its own citizens’ lives is a key part of democratic legitimacy. While the right to physical integrity is nearly universal, holding those who violate this right legally accountable has proved difficult. I argue that the dynamics between civil society groups and government officials can activate investigatory processes plagued by bureaucratic inertia. I develop two analytical categories of civil society actors: Activists impose a political cost to impunity and challenge victim-blaming narratives, whereas advocates facilitate the flow of investigative information between state officials and family members of victims. Drawing from original statistical, ethnographic, and interview evidence, I find that a synergistic political dynamic between activists and advocates can emerge in which political pressure is mounted by activists and channeled into investigatory advances by advocates. While local groups usually anchor these activist–advocate dynamics, international actors may play definitive roles in disrupting tenacious patterns of impunity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1666-1698
Number of pages33
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number12
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Latin American courts
  • NGOs
  • human rights
  • judicial systems
  • social movements
  • violence

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