Rethinking Amnesties: Atrocity, Accountability and Impunity in Postconflict Societies

Louise Mallinder, Kieran McEvoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


The notion of accountability that is propagated in transitional justice often appears limited to demands for the prosecution and imprisonment of those who have been involved in serious human rights violations. Amnesties, widely understood as the absence of punishment for wrongdoing, are in turn considered by many scholars and activists as an example par excellence of the kind of Faustian pacts which are made in the name of political expediency in transitions from conflict. Drawing from a range of interdisciplinary literature, as well as research completed by the authors in a number of societies with a violent past, this paper uses amnesties as a case study to argue for a more rounded interrogation of the notion of accountability in transitional justice. The paper charts the various forms of intersecting accountability which both shape and delimit amnesties at key ‘moments’ concerning their remit, introduction and operation. The paper concludes that the legalistic view of amnesties as equating to impunity and retribution as accountability is inaccurate and misleading. It argues that a broader perspective of accountability speaks directly to the capacity for amnesties to play a more constructive role in post-conflict justice and peacemaking.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-128
JournalContemporary Social Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 16 Feb 2011


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