The End of Amnesty or Regional Overreach? Interpreting the Erosion of South America's Amnesty Laws

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Abstract

The atrocious abuses committed under South America’s dictators resulted in a wave of amnesties. Following transitions to democracy, challenges from victims and civil society unpicked several of these amnesties, leading to hundreds of perpetrators facing prosecution. These developments prompted far-reaching claims in academic literature and policy reports regarding the significance of the erosion of South America’s amnesties for shaping international legal norms and policy preferences on amnesties within the region and beyond. This article draws on a comparative analysis of case law from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and national courts as well as legislative changes to argue that there is a regional trend to move away from broad, unconditional amnesties enacted during or after dictatorial rule. However, it notes that this is not universal across the region, nor does it represent a rejection of all forms of amnesty. The article then tests the claims being made in the literature regarding the significance of the regional trend on the legality, durability and desirability of amnesties. It finds that there is little evidence to support claims that the regional developments are indicative of a broader normative shift. It concludes by identifying the risks posed by regional overreach.
LanguageEnglish
Pages645-680
JournalInternational and Comparative Law Quarterly
Volume65
Issue number3
Early online date5 May 2016
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 May 2016

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amnesty
erosion
Law
legal policy
legal norm
legality
trend
prosecution
case law
regional development
civil society
human rights
abuse
democracy

Keywords

  • amnesty laws
  • duty to prosecute
  • human rights
  • impunity
  • Inter-American
  • Court
  • transitional justice

Cite this

@article{f9680765f3384a43b7ae362b1dbfbd10,
title = "The End of Amnesty or Regional Overreach? Interpreting the Erosion of South America's Amnesty Laws",
abstract = "The atrocious abuses committed under South America’s dictators resulted in a wave of amnesties. Following transitions to democracy, challenges from victims and civil society unpicked several of these amnesties, leading to hundreds of perpetrators facing prosecution. These developments prompted far-reaching claims in academic literature and policy reports regarding the significance of the erosion of South America’s amnesties for shaping international legal norms and policy preferences on amnesties within the region and beyond. This article draws on a comparative analysis of case law from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and national courts as well as legislative changes to argue that there is a regional trend to move away from broad, unconditional amnesties enacted during or after dictatorial rule. However, it notes that this is not universal across the region, nor does it represent a rejection of all forms of amnesty. The article then tests the claims being made in the literature regarding the significance of the regional trend on the legality, durability and desirability of amnesties. It finds that there is little evidence to support claims that the regional developments are indicative of a broader normative shift. It concludes by identifying the risks posed by regional overreach.",
keywords = "amnesty laws, duty to prosecute, human rights, impunity, Inter-American, Court, transitional justice",
author = "Louise Mallinder",
note = "Reference text: Paige Arthur, ‘How “Transitions” Reshaped Human Rights: A Conceptual History of Transitional Justice’ (2009) 31(2) Hum Rts Q 321 Kathryn Sikkink, ‘From Pariah State to Global Protagonist: Argentina and the Struggle for International Human Rights’ (2008) 50 Lat Amer Pol & Soc 1. P{\'a}draig McAuliffe, ‘Transitional Justice’s Expanding Empire: Reasserting the Value of the Paradigmatic Transition’ (2011) 2(2) J Conflictology 32 UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, The Administration of Justice and the Human Rights of Detainees: Question of Impunity of Perpetrators of Human Rights Violations (Civil and Political) UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20/Rev.1 (2 October 1997) Vania Markarian, Left in Transformation: Uruguayan Exiles and the Latin American Human Rights Networks, 1967-1984 (Routledge, 2005). UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Resolution 1983/34 The administration of justice and the human rights of detainees. UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/RES/1983/34 (6 September 1983). Diane F. Orentlicher. ‘“Settling Accounts” Revisited: Reconciling Global Norms with Local Agency’ (2007) 1(1) Int’l J Transitional Just 10 Santiago A. Canton, ‘Amnesty Laws’ in Katya Salazar and Thomas Antkowiak (eds), Victims Unsilenced: The Inter-American Human Rights System and Transitional Justice in Latin America (Due Process of Law Foundation 2007) Claudia Martin, ‘Catching Up with the Past: Recent Decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Addressing Gross Human Rights Violations Perpetrated during the 1970s-1980s’ (2007) 7(4) Hum Rts L Rev 774. Naomi Roht-Arriaza, ‘After Amnesties are Gone: Latin American National Courts and the New Contours of the Fight Against Impunity’ (2015) 37(2) Hum Rts Q 341 Dan Kuwali and Juan Pablo P{\'e}rez-Le{\'o}n Acevedo, ‘Smokescreens - A Survey of the Evolving Trends in Amnesty Laws in Africa and Latin America’ (2008) 2 Malawi L J 115 Cath Collins, Post-transitional Justice: Human Rights Trials in Chile and El Salvador (Pennsylvania State University Press 2010) Mart{\'i}n Abreg{\'u}, ‘La Tutela Judicial del Derecho a la Verdad en la Argentina’ (1996) 24 Revista Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos 11 Alexandra Huneeus, ‘Judging from a Guilty Conscience: The Chilean Judiciary’s Human Rights Turn’ (2010) 35(1) L & Soc Inquiry 99 Cath Collins, ‘Human Rights Trials in Chile during and after the “Pinochet Years”’ (2010) 4 Int’l J Transitional Just 67. Jo-Marie Burt, ‘Guilty as Charged: The Trial of Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for Human Rights Violations’ (2009) 3(3) Int’l J Transitional Just 384, 390. Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Lauren Gibson, ‘The Developing Jurisprudence on Amnesty’ (1998) 20 Hum Rts Q 843 Par Engstrom, ‘Brazil, (Post-)Transitional Justice and the Inter-American Human Rights System’ (4th International Conference for Human Rights, Palmas, November 2015) Nina Schneider, ‘Impunity in Post-authoritarian Brazil: The Supreme Court’s Recent Verdict on the Amnesty Law’ (2011) 90 European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 39 Paulo Abr{\~a}o and Marcelo D. Torelly, ‘Resistance to Change: Brazil’s Persistent Amnesty and its Alternatives for Truth and Justice’ in Leigh A. Payne and Francesca Lessa (eds), Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability: Comparative and International Perspectives (CUP 2012). Par Engstrom and Andrew Hurrell, ‘Why the Human Rights Regime in the Americas Matters’ in M{\'o}nica Serrano and Vesselin Popovski (eds), The Human Rights Regime in the Americas: Theory and Reality (United Nations University Press 2010) Anja Seibert-Fohr, Prosecuting Serious Human Rights Violations (OUP 2009) Christopher McCrudden. 'A Common Law of Human Rights? Transnational Judicial Conversations on Constitutional Rights' (2000) 20(4) Oxford J Legal Stud 499, 507. Alexandra Huneeus, ‘Rejecting the Inter-American Court: Judicialization, National Courts, and Regional Human Rights’ in Javier Couso, Alexandra Huneeus and Rachel Sieder (eds), Cultures of Legality: Judicialization and Political Activism in Latin America (CUP 2013). L Burgorgue and AA Ubeda de Torres, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Case Law and Commentary (Oxford University Press 2011) The Belfast Guidelines on Amnesty and Accountability (Transitional Justice Institute, 2013). C Hilbrecht, ‘The Domestic Mechanisms of Compliance with International Human Rights Law: Case Studies from the Inter-American Human Rights System’ (2012) 34 Human Rights Quarterly 959 Christine A. E. Bakker, ‘The Full Stop to Amnesty in Argentina: The Sim{\'o}n Case’ (2005) 3(5) J Int’L Crim Just 1106 Hugh Thirlway, ‘The Sources of International Law’ in Malcolm D. Evans (ed), International Law (4th edn OUP 2014) Brian D. Lepard, Customary International Law: A New Theory with Practical Applications (CUP 2010) Michael Scharf, Customary International Law in Times of Fundamental Change (CUP 2013) Antonio Cassese and Paola Gaeta, Cassese’s International Criminal Law (OUP 2013) Mark Freeman, Necessary Evils: Amnesties and the Search for Justice (CUP 2011) Lisa Laplante. 'Outlawing Amnesty: The Return of Criminal Justice in Transitional Justice Schemes' (2009) 49(4) Va J Int'l L 915 UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Chile, UN Doc CCPR/C/CHL/CO/6 (13 August 2014) William Schabas, Unimaginable Atrocities: Justice, Politics, and Rights at the War Crimes Tribunals (OUP 2012) Report of the Intersessional Open-ended Working Group to Elaborate a Draft Legally Binding Instrument for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, UN Doc E/CN.4/2004/59 (2004). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rule-of-Law Tools for Post-Conflict States: Amnesties’, HR/PUB/09/1 (2009) Kathryn Sikkink and Carrie Booth Walling, ‘The Impact of Human Rights Trials in Latin America’ (2007) 44(4) J Peace Res 427 Francesca Lessa and others, ‘Persistent or Eroding Impunity: The Divergent Effects of Legal Challenges to Amnesties for Past Human Rights Violations’ (2014) 47(1) Israel L Rev 105. Renee Jeffery, Amnesties, Accountability, and Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 2014) Louise Mallinder, Amnesty, Human Rights and Political Transitions: Bridging the Peace and Justice Divide (Hart Publishing 2008) Thomas Carothers. 'The End of the Transition Paradigm?' (2002) 13(1) J Democracy 5 (2008) 19(3) Journal of Democracy 113. Elin Skaar, ‘Truth Commissions, Trials-or Nothing? Policy Options in Democratic Transitions’ (1999) 20 Third World Quarterly 1124. J. Patrice McSherry, Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2005) Cath Collins, Lorena Balardini and Jo-Marie Burt, ‘Mapping Perpetrator Prosecutions in Latin America’ (2013) 7(1) Int’l J Transitional Just 8 Juan M{\'e}ndez, ‘Lessons Learned’ in Katya Salazar and Thomas Antkowiak (eds), Victims Unsilenced: The Inter-American Human Rights System and Transitional Justice in Latin America (Due Process of Law Foundation 2007) 191 Louise Mallinder, 'Amnesties’ Challenge to the Global Accountability Norm? Interpreting Regional and International Trends in Amnesty Enactment' in Leigh A. Payne and Francesca Lessa (eds), Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability: Comparative and International Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012) Oskar N. T. Thoms, James Ron and Roland Paris. 'State-Level Effects of Transitional Justice: What Do We Know?' (2010) 4(3) Int'l J Transitional Just 329. Tricia D. Olsen, Leigh Payne and Andy Reiter, Transitional Justice in Balance: Comparing Processes, Weighing Efficacy (United States Institute of Peace Press 2010). George W. Downs and Andrea W. Trento, ‘Conceptual Issues Surrounding the Compliance Gap’ in Edward C. Luck and Michael W. Doyle (eds), International Law and Organization: Closing the Compliance Gap (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2004). Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and Kiyoteru Tsutsui, ‘Human Rights in a Global World: The Paradox of Empty Promises’ (2005) 110 American Journal of Sociology 1373.",
year = "2016",
month = "5",
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language = "English",
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pages = "645--680",
journal = "International and Comparative Law Quarterly",
issn = "0020-5893",
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TY - JOUR

T1 - The End of Amnesty or Regional Overreach? Interpreting the Erosion of South America's Amnesty Laws

AU - Mallinder, Louise

N1 - Reference text: Paige Arthur, ‘How “Transitions” Reshaped Human Rights: A Conceptual History of Transitional Justice’ (2009) 31(2) Hum Rts Q 321 Kathryn Sikkink, ‘From Pariah State to Global Protagonist: Argentina and the Struggle for International Human Rights’ (2008) 50 Lat Amer Pol & Soc 1. Pádraig McAuliffe, ‘Transitional Justice’s Expanding Empire: Reasserting the Value of the Paradigmatic Transition’ (2011) 2(2) J Conflictology 32 UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, The Administration of Justice and the Human Rights of Detainees: Question of Impunity of Perpetrators of Human Rights Violations (Civil and Political) UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/20/Rev.1 (2 October 1997) Vania Markarian, Left in Transformation: Uruguayan Exiles and the Latin American Human Rights Networks, 1967-1984 (Routledge, 2005). UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Resolution 1983/34 The administration of justice and the human rights of detainees. UN Doc E/CN.4/Sub.2/RES/1983/34 (6 September 1983). Diane F. Orentlicher. ‘“Settling Accounts” Revisited: Reconciling Global Norms with Local Agency’ (2007) 1(1) Int’l J Transitional Just 10 Santiago A. Canton, ‘Amnesty Laws’ in Katya Salazar and Thomas Antkowiak (eds), Victims Unsilenced: The Inter-American Human Rights System and Transitional Justice in Latin America (Due Process of Law Foundation 2007) Claudia Martin, ‘Catching Up with the Past: Recent Decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights Addressing Gross Human Rights Violations Perpetrated during the 1970s-1980s’ (2007) 7(4) Hum Rts L Rev 774. Naomi Roht-Arriaza, ‘After Amnesties are Gone: Latin American National Courts and the New Contours of the Fight Against Impunity’ (2015) 37(2) Hum Rts Q 341 Dan Kuwali and Juan Pablo Pérez-León Acevedo, ‘Smokescreens - A Survey of the Evolving Trends in Amnesty Laws in Africa and Latin America’ (2008) 2 Malawi L J 115 Cath Collins, Post-transitional Justice: Human Rights Trials in Chile and El Salvador (Pennsylvania State University Press 2010) Martín Abregú, ‘La Tutela Judicial del Derecho a la Verdad en la Argentina’ (1996) 24 Revista Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos 11 Alexandra Huneeus, ‘Judging from a Guilty Conscience: The Chilean Judiciary’s Human Rights Turn’ (2010) 35(1) L & Soc Inquiry 99 Cath Collins, ‘Human Rights Trials in Chile during and after the “Pinochet Years”’ (2010) 4 Int’l J Transitional Just 67. Jo-Marie Burt, ‘Guilty as Charged: The Trial of Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for Human Rights Violations’ (2009) 3(3) Int’l J Transitional Just 384, 390. Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Lauren Gibson, ‘The Developing Jurisprudence on Amnesty’ (1998) 20 Hum Rts Q 843 Par Engstrom, ‘Brazil, (Post-)Transitional Justice and the Inter-American Human Rights System’ (4th International Conference for Human Rights, Palmas, November 2015) Nina Schneider, ‘Impunity in Post-authoritarian Brazil: The Supreme Court’s Recent Verdict on the Amnesty Law’ (2011) 90 European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 39 Paulo Abrão and Marcelo D. Torelly, ‘Resistance to Change: Brazil’s Persistent Amnesty and its Alternatives for Truth and Justice’ in Leigh A. Payne and Francesca Lessa (eds), Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability: Comparative and International Perspectives (CUP 2012). Par Engstrom and Andrew Hurrell, ‘Why the Human Rights Regime in the Americas Matters’ in Mónica Serrano and Vesselin Popovski (eds), The Human Rights Regime in the Americas: Theory and Reality (United Nations University Press 2010) Anja Seibert-Fohr, Prosecuting Serious Human Rights Violations (OUP 2009) Christopher McCrudden. 'A Common Law of Human Rights? Transnational Judicial Conversations on Constitutional Rights' (2000) 20(4) Oxford J Legal Stud 499, 507. Alexandra Huneeus, ‘Rejecting the Inter-American Court: Judicialization, National Courts, and Regional Human Rights’ in Javier Couso, Alexandra Huneeus and Rachel Sieder (eds), Cultures of Legality: Judicialization and Political Activism in Latin America (CUP 2013). L Burgorgue and AA Ubeda de Torres, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights: Case Law and Commentary (Oxford University Press 2011) The Belfast Guidelines on Amnesty and Accountability (Transitional Justice Institute, 2013). C Hilbrecht, ‘The Domestic Mechanisms of Compliance with International Human Rights Law: Case Studies from the Inter-American Human Rights System’ (2012) 34 Human Rights Quarterly 959 Christine A. E. Bakker, ‘The Full Stop to Amnesty in Argentina: The Simón Case’ (2005) 3(5) J Int’L Crim Just 1106 Hugh Thirlway, ‘The Sources of International Law’ in Malcolm D. Evans (ed), International Law (4th edn OUP 2014) Brian D. Lepard, Customary International Law: A New Theory with Practical Applications (CUP 2010) Michael Scharf, Customary International Law in Times of Fundamental Change (CUP 2013) Antonio Cassese and Paola Gaeta, Cassese’s International Criminal Law (OUP 2013) Mark Freeman, Necessary Evils: Amnesties and the Search for Justice (CUP 2011) Lisa Laplante. 'Outlawing Amnesty: The Return of Criminal Justice in Transitional Justice Schemes' (2009) 49(4) Va J Int'l L 915 UN Human Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the sixth periodic report of Chile, UN Doc CCPR/C/CHL/CO/6 (13 August 2014) William Schabas, Unimaginable Atrocities: Justice, Politics, and Rights at the War Crimes Tribunals (OUP 2012) Report of the Intersessional Open-ended Working Group to Elaborate a Draft Legally Binding Instrument for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, UN Doc E/CN.4/2004/59 (2004). Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rule-of-Law Tools for Post-Conflict States: Amnesties’, HR/PUB/09/1 (2009) Kathryn Sikkink and Carrie Booth Walling, ‘The Impact of Human Rights Trials in Latin America’ (2007) 44(4) J Peace Res 427 Francesca Lessa and others, ‘Persistent or Eroding Impunity: The Divergent Effects of Legal Challenges to Amnesties for Past Human Rights Violations’ (2014) 47(1) Israel L Rev 105. Renee Jeffery, Amnesties, Accountability, and Human Rights (University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 2014) Louise Mallinder, Amnesty, Human Rights and Political Transitions: Bridging the Peace and Justice Divide (Hart Publishing 2008) Thomas Carothers. 'The End of the Transition Paradigm?' (2002) 13(1) J Democracy 5 (2008) 19(3) Journal of Democracy 113. Elin Skaar, ‘Truth Commissions, Trials-or Nothing? Policy Options in Democratic Transitions’ (1999) 20 Third World Quarterly 1124. J. Patrice McSherry, Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2005) Cath Collins, Lorena Balardini and Jo-Marie Burt, ‘Mapping Perpetrator Prosecutions in Latin America’ (2013) 7(1) Int’l J Transitional Just 8 Juan Méndez, ‘Lessons Learned’ in Katya Salazar and Thomas Antkowiak (eds), Victims Unsilenced: The Inter-American Human Rights System and Transitional Justice in Latin America (Due Process of Law Foundation 2007) 191 Louise Mallinder, 'Amnesties’ Challenge to the Global Accountability Norm? Interpreting Regional and International Trends in Amnesty Enactment' in Leigh A. Payne and Francesca Lessa (eds), Amnesty in the Age of Human Rights Accountability: Comparative and International Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012) Oskar N. T. Thoms, James Ron and Roland Paris. 'State-Level Effects of Transitional Justice: What Do We Know?' (2010) 4(3) Int'l J Transitional Just 329. Tricia D. Olsen, Leigh Payne and Andy Reiter, Transitional Justice in Balance: Comparing Processes, Weighing Efficacy (United States Institute of Peace Press 2010). George W. Downs and Andrea W. Trento, ‘Conceptual Issues Surrounding the Compliance Gap’ in Edward C. Luck and Michael W. Doyle (eds), International Law and Organization: Closing the Compliance Gap (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2004). Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and Kiyoteru Tsutsui, ‘Human Rights in a Global World: The Paradox of Empty Promises’ (2005) 110 American Journal of Sociology 1373.

PY - 2016/5/5

Y1 - 2016/5/5

N2 - The atrocious abuses committed under South America’s dictators resulted in a wave of amnesties. Following transitions to democracy, challenges from victims and civil society unpicked several of these amnesties, leading to hundreds of perpetrators facing prosecution. These developments prompted far-reaching claims in academic literature and policy reports regarding the significance of the erosion of South America’s amnesties for shaping international legal norms and policy preferences on amnesties within the region and beyond. This article draws on a comparative analysis of case law from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and national courts as well as legislative changes to argue that there is a regional trend to move away from broad, unconditional amnesties enacted during or after dictatorial rule. However, it notes that this is not universal across the region, nor does it represent a rejection of all forms of amnesty. The article then tests the claims being made in the literature regarding the significance of the regional trend on the legality, durability and desirability of amnesties. It finds that there is little evidence to support claims that the regional developments are indicative of a broader normative shift. It concludes by identifying the risks posed by regional overreach.

AB - The atrocious abuses committed under South America’s dictators resulted in a wave of amnesties. Following transitions to democracy, challenges from victims and civil society unpicked several of these amnesties, leading to hundreds of perpetrators facing prosecution. These developments prompted far-reaching claims in academic literature and policy reports regarding the significance of the erosion of South America’s amnesties for shaping international legal norms and policy preferences on amnesties within the region and beyond. This article draws on a comparative analysis of case law from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and national courts as well as legislative changes to argue that there is a regional trend to move away from broad, unconditional amnesties enacted during or after dictatorial rule. However, it notes that this is not universal across the region, nor does it represent a rejection of all forms of amnesty. The article then tests the claims being made in the literature regarding the significance of the regional trend on the legality, durability and desirability of amnesties. It finds that there is little evidence to support claims that the regional developments are indicative of a broader normative shift. It concludes by identifying the risks posed by regional overreach.

KW - amnesty laws

KW - duty to prosecute

KW - human rights

KW - impunity

KW - Inter-American

KW - Court

KW - transitional justice

U2 - 10.1017/S0020589316000166

DO - 10.1017/S0020589316000166

M3 - Article

VL - 65

SP - 645

EP - 680

JO - International and Comparative Law Quarterly

T2 - International and Comparative Law Quarterly

JF - International and Comparative Law Quarterly

SN - 0020-5893

IS - 3

ER -