Amnesties’ Challenge to the Global Accountability Norm? Interpreting Regional and International Trends in Amnesty Enactment

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It is widely acknowledged that during the last decades of the twentieth century, the engagement of states with international human rights norms underwent a significant transformation, triggering what has been called a “justice cascade”. In relation to amnesty laws, the justice cascade theory appears to suggest that, as the relevant human rights norms spread around the world, fewer amnesty laws that violate these norms will be enacted and where preexisting amnesty laws come into conflict with evolving norms, they will be eroded or annulled. However, the data collected to support the justice cascade does not document or explain the continued international use of amnesty laws highlighted by this author and other scholars. Drawing on the data compiled by the author in the Amnesty Law Database, this chapter will seek to address this gap by describing regional and global trends in amnesty law enactment and interpreting the existence of a global accountability norm in light of these trends. It will begin by discussing how “mapping” amnesty laws through a large-N comparative study can contribute to transitional justice knowledge. It will then briefly outline how the concept of amnesties has been defined within the Amnesty Law Database and describe the data categorization and collection processes used to construct this database. In the following section, the findings from the database will be used to present an overview of regional and international trends in amnesty law enactment from 1979 to 2011. This section will focus in particular on the period since the Rome Statute in 1998, often pointed to as a watershed event in the development of a global accountability norm. In the final section, the chapter will interpret the implications of these trends on the existence of such a cascade.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAmnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability: Comparative and International Perspectives
EditorsFrancesca Lessa, Leigh A. Payne
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Print)978-1107025004
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 17 May 2012


  • amnesty
  • accountability
  • transitional justice


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