College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Role of amnesties in peace building explored

Researchers have launched a comprehensive public database exploring amnesties granted during conflicts.

The resource is the first public, open access database which explores amnesties in ongoing conflicts, as part of peace negotiations, or in post-conflict periods.

The Amnesties, Conflict and Peace Agreement (ACPA) dataset contains detailed information on 289 amnesties introduced from January 1990 to September 2016 in all world regions.

The project brings together the research of lead academic Professor Louise Mallinder from the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast and the technologies of the Political Settlements Research Programme, based at Edinburgh Law School.  

Online resource

Funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the project has developed a new online tool for conflict parties and peacebuilders.

Amnesties are measures that seek to remove criminal liability for wrongdoing. They are often used during armed conflicts or as part of negotiated peace settlements to reduce the violence and contribute to sustainable peace.

The new resource provides descriptions of key themes relating to the scope and legal effects of different forms of amnesty, together with information on when and how they are implemented to remove criminal liability for conflict-related offences.

Creative solutions

The question of amnesty is often one of the big stumbling blocks to a peace agreement.  By making amnesty processes fully searchable, and providing strong analysis on how to craft amnesties through Professor Mallinder’s report, we hope that actors in conflict will be better able to find creative solutions for moving the peace process forward, that avoid impunity.

Professor Christine BellEdinburgh Law School

The use of amnesties is often highly controversial, particularly where amnesties are granted to war criminals or those responsible for serious human rights violations. This is a live issue in many parts of the world today, with amnesties under consideration in the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Thailand, and in Afghanistan, where a peace agreement was reached between the US and the Taliban in February 2020 and direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are due to begin.  The political negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban demonstrate how amnesty can be a prerequisite for opening peace negotiations or reaching an agreement. Furthermore, debates in recent weeks among Afghan actors and representatives of other states over the release of Taliban detainees from prison reveal how actors may both recognise that amnesty is necessary for peace while also seek to limit the impunity that it creates.  These debates indicate that the legitimacy of amnesty may rest on multiple factors including how amnestied persons are monitored after they receive amnesty; the forms of post-amnesty conditions that can be imposed for them to retain amnesty; and whether the peace process seeks to fulfil victims’ rights. These issues are often omitted from approaches to amnesty that consider only whether the amnesty extends to international crimes and serious human rights violations.

Professor Louise MallinderSchool of Law at Queen’s University Belfast 

The key themes explored by the resource include the context in which the amnesty was introduced – such as timing or regime type, and the process of introducing the amnesty.

It also looks at the categories of persons who benefited from the amnesty or were excluded from its terms, and the conditions that amnestied persons must comply with to obtain or retain amnesty.

Other key areas examined are the crimes that are included or excluded from the amnesty, the effects of the amnesty on criminal justice, civil remedies and administrative accountability processes.

How the amnesty was implemented, including whether victims had a voice in the process of deciding whether individual amnesty applicants should be granted amnesty, is another theme. 

Professor Mallinder’s database is a tremendously valuable resource for research on conflict and peace processes. It allows researchers to compare the manner in which amnesties are implemented, as well as providing an insight into the workings of amnesty processes for those who may be considering the use of amnesty in negotiations on ending conflict. The ease of access to these data and the detail that Professor Mallinder provides on each process will surely encourage and support a wave of new research on the relevance and effect of amnesties in the context of armed conflict.

Sanja BadanjakChancellor’s Fellow in Global Challenges from the School of Law

 The Amnesties, Conflict and Peace Agreement Dataset 

Poltical Settlements Research Programme

[Image credit: Getty Images/Guvendemir]