The Legitimacy of Amnesties under International Law and General Principles of Anglo-American Law

Ronald Slye


This article discusses what makes an amnesty legitimate. The author does this by evaluating amnesties in light of international law critiques of amnesties for human rights violations and from principles of both Anglo-American and international law. First, the author breaks the international law critiques into three schools: the obligation to prosecute, the fundamental rights of victims, and the social stability. From these schools, the author derives principles to evaluate the legitimacy of amnesties. After establishing that the doctrine of non bis in idem is not a barrier to evaluating the legitimacy of foreign amnesties, the author selects areas of law that reflect policies and principles applicable to amnesties, including international refugee law, extradition law, underlying immunities, statutes of limitation, laches, and pardons to argue against a liberal acceptance of amnesties. Finally, the author outlines a typology of amnesties in order to illustrate the difference between amnesties; the author divides amnesties into four general categories: amnesic, compromise, corrective, and accountable. Using this typology, the author concludes that to date, there is only one amnesty that comes close to qualifying as legitimate: the 1995 South African Amnesty.