Amnesties in the Pursuit of Reconciliation, Peacebuilding and Restorative Justice

47 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2010 Last revised: 29 Nov 2011

Date Written: June 6, 2011


For centuries, amnesty laws were a habitual element of peacebuilding and reconciliation around the world. Amnesties were used to calm insurrections or to mark the end of wars between states. Ruling elites often portrayed the introduction of these laws as gestures of mercy and benefaction designed to restore relations between the state and the citizenry or between the peoples of belligerent countries. During the past thirty years, amnesty laws have remained a key component of peace negotiations around the world. For example, a recent survey of peace agreements made between 1980 and 2006 found that whilst ‘provisions for prosecutions and truth commissions are rare in peace agreements … the use of amnesty is comparatively common’. However, from the late 1990s, reliance on amnesty laws to promote peace and reconciliation has become increasingly controversial.

This paper will begin by exploring how the concepts of peacebuilding, reconciliation and transitional justice have evolved since the 1990s. This analysis will focus in particular on how perceptions of amnesty laws as promoting (or inhibiting) the goals espoused by these concepts have shifted over the past two decades, and conversely how amnesties themselves have adapted to take these goals into account. This paper will then analyze interpretations of restorative justice within the transitional justice literature. Drawing on restorative justice theory and the experiences of amnesty processes in Timor-Leste, South Africa and Uganda this paper will tentatively propose elements that should be considered when designing a “restorative amnesty”. This analysis will include addressing how amnesty laws can facilitate inclusive restorative processes, promote truth recovery, enforce restorative outcomes, and provide reparations. However, due to the context-dependent nature of restorative justice, these proposals should not be viewed as a template to which all amnesties should conform, but rather as themes to be considered when tailoring bespoke amnesty laws for local contexts.

Keywords: Amnesties, Peacebuilding, Reconciliation, Restorative Justice, Transitional Justice

Suggested Citation

Mallinder, Louise, Amnesties in the Pursuit of Reconciliation, Peacebuilding and Restorative Justice (June 6, 2011). RESTORATIVE JUSTICE, RECONCILIATION AND PEACEBUILDING, Daniel Philpott and Jennifer Llewellyn, eds., Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Louise Mallinder (Contact Author)

Queen's University Belfast ( email )

School of Law
Belfast, County (optional) BT1 7NN
United Kingdom
02890973470 (Phone)

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