Anti-Impunity and the Turn to Criminal Law in Human Rights

60 Pages Posted: 15 May 2015 Last revised: 13 Aug 2015

See all articles by Karen Engle

Karen Engle

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law

Date Written: July 21, 2015


Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the human rights movement has been almost synonymous with the fight against impunity. Today, to support human rights means to favor criminal accountability for those individuals who have violated international human rights or humanitarian law. It also means to be against amnesty laws that might preclude such accountability.

This article both chronicles and critiques this turn to criminal law within human rights. It argues that as criminal law has become the enforcement tool of choice, it has negatively affected the lens through which the human rights movement and the international law scholars who support it view human rights violations. In short, as advocates increasingly turn to international criminal law to respond to issues ranging from economic injustice to genocide, they reinforce an individualized and decontextualized understanding of the harms they aim to address, even while relying on the state and on forms of criminalization of which they have long been critical.

Keywords: International human rights, international criminal law, transitional justice, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, amnesty, human rights movement, right to truth

Suggested Citation

Engle, Karen, Anti-Impunity and the Turn to Criminal Law in Human Rights (July 21, 2015). Cornell Law Review, Vol. 100: 1069 ; U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. UTPUB625. Available at SSRN:

Karen Engle (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics