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How Conditional Amnesties Can Assist Transitional Societies in Delivering on the Right to the Truth

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Are Such Processes Compatible with International Law?

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This article explores how conditional amnesties can assist post-conflict societies to recover truth. It examines how such amnesties can be used optimally to achieve the best results as part of transitional justice mechanisms. Thus, a central question is to see how amnesties can be used for truth recovery purposes. For that reason, the status and role of amnesties, and whether such amnesties can be used to learn more about the past and assist in truth recovery is explored. The article explores what amnesties are, how prevalent they are and how amnesties can be used optimally to achieve the best results. An issue that is also explored is whether amnesties are needed for perpetrators to participate in transitional justice mechanisms. The argument that is made, in this regard, is that amnesty is absolutely necessary to persuade perpetrators to testify. If they do not have such legal protection, perpetrators fear the legal consequences that may result if they admit to crimes for which they have not been charged. Another question that is examined concerns whether amnesties, and specifically conditional amnesties, pass international law muster. This article therefore investigates the continual and extensive use of amnesty to determine whether a conditional amnesty violates international law. The article suggests how a conditional amnesty process could be structured and what difficulties such a process should avoid if perpetrators are to enter such a process.

Affiliations: 1: BA LLB (Natal) LLM (Harvard) LLD (UWC) Professor of Law, University of South Africa; Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law and member of CEDIS, Nova University, Lisbon Portugal, Attorney South Africa, Attorney New York USA; former Chair-Rapporteur, UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.


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