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Beyond Legalism

| Amnesties, Transition and Conflict Transformation

Beyond Legalism team profiles, Conferences

Amnesty laws
have long been used by states to quell dissent, end violent challenges to their government’s authority or shield state agents from prosecutions. However, in particular since the end of the Cold War, amnesties have become increasingly contentious with local and international human rights groups, victims organisation and indeed inter-governmental agencies challenging such laws in a variety of legal, political and social forums. Amongst the criticisms levelled at amnesties are that they represent a denial of justice to the victims of violence, that they represent a breach of international law which compels the prosecution and punishment of offenders for serious crimes and that they encourage recidivism and extreme violence by encouraging perpetrators to believe that an amnesty will inevitably follow a period of political violence. Although these ongoing debates are central to the development of the field of transitional justice and understandings of the legal duties of transitional states, the tendency to view amnesties through a legalistic lens has arguably mitigated against a more theoretical analysis of the consequences of enacting amnesty laws during political transitions.

Funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, Beyond Legalism : Amnesties, Transition and Conflict Transformation is an interdisciplinary comparative research project that seeks to address this gap in our understanding of amnesty laws. It aims to develop a ‘thicker’ understanding of the relationship between amnesties and transitions from conflict through the exploration of several themes, which are outlined on this website.

In conducting this research, the Beyond Legalism team have carried out fieldwork in five jurisdictions to explore contrasting experiences of amnesties and other clemency measures. This website contains brief descriptions of the jurisdictions visited and detailed reports charting the history of amnesty laws and related clemency measures in each of the case study jurisdictions. Additional project reports will be added when available.

The results of the Beyond Legalism will be made public after an international conference hosted in Belfast on 22-23 June 2009.

This website also contains extensive bibliographies of literature on amnesty laws and transitional justice in general, as well as specific bibliographies for each case study jurisdiction.

The website also contains the Amnesty Law Database of comprising materials relating to over 500 amnesty laws enacted since the end of World War Two. This database is currently under construction and will be freely available to all users, who will be encouraged to provide further information to enhance the profiles of the amnesty laws.