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Research Handbook on International Criminal Law

Research Handbook on International Criminal Law

Research Handbooks in International Law series

Edited by Bartram S. Brown

This carefully regarded and well-structured handbook covers the broad range of norms, practices, policies, processes and institutional mechanisms of international criminal law, exploring how they operate and continue to develop in a variety of contexts. Leading scholars in the field and experienced practitioners have brought together their expertise and perspectives in a clear and concise fashion to create an authoritative resource, which will be useful and accessible even to those without legal training.

Chapter 16: National amnesties, truth commissions and international criminal tribunals

William A. Schabas

Subjects: law - academic, criminal law and justice, human rights, public international law, politics and public policy, human rights


William A. Schabas Amnesty is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘an act of forgetfulness, an intentional overlooking, a general pardon, esp. for a political offence’. The word is used in many languages, apparently derived from the same word in both Greek and Latin, amnestia, which means ‘forgetfulness’. The profound suspicion of criminal justice systems manifested at an early stage in the development of human rights law is reflected in the name chosen by one of the premier human rights non-governmental organizations, Amnesty International. But Amnesty International no longer looks very favourably on amnesties, as a general rule. Moreover, there is a growing body of authority indicating that amnesties are not only frowned upon by human rights law, they may even be prohibited.1 Often amnesties are explicitly set out in peace agreements. Such conventions make up a long list, going back to the mother of all international treaties, the 1848 Peace of Westphalia.2 The Lomé Agreement that ended the civil war in Sierra Leone provides a recent example, although amnesty provisions in peace treaties are as old as international law itself. Another comes from the dawn of international criminal justice, at the end of the First World War. The Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, which ended the war and determined the consequences of its aftermath with respect to Turkey, contained a ‘Declaration of Amnesty’ for all offences committed between 1 August 1914 and 20 November 1922.3 It replaced the Treaty of Sèvres of 1920, which was never accepted...

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