Amnesty on trial: impunity, accountability, and the norms of international law

An emerging consensus regards domestic amnesties for international crimes as generally inconsistent with international law. This legal consensus rests on a norm against impunity: the chief role of international criminal law, and of the fledgling International Criminal Court , is to end impunity for violators of the worst of criminal acts. But the anti-impunity norm, and the anti-amnesty consensus that has arisen from it, now face serious difficulties. The ICC's role in the ongoing conflict in Northern Uganda illustrates the deadlock that has now emerged between countries wishing to retain the power to use domestic politics and criminal law as tools for negotiation with current or outgoing perpetrators, on the one side, and the ICC's determination to apply a consistent international anti-impunity norm, on the other. The paper argues that the anti-impunity norm itself is based on a narrowly retributivist conception of criminal justice. A broader norm for democratic accountability, by contrast, would continue to prefer prosecutions over amnesties in international law, less for the opportunity for deserved retribution for perpetrators than for the public enactment of the deliberative procedures associated with the rule of law.Keywords: amnesty; impunity; international law; international criminal court
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DOI 10.3402/egp.v1i1.1816
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