Nadine Ansorg / Sabine Kurtenbach

Promoting Peace and Impunity? Amnesty Laws after War in El Salvador and Beyond

Journal of Global Security Studies | 2023

  • Abstract

    Amnesty laws are a widespread practice in the transition from war to peace. They often aim at the transformation of violent conflict by making promises about exemptions from liability for war crimes. Critics argue that amnesties are in violation of international law and reproduce impunity in post-war societies, whereas supporters of amnesty laws focus on their peace-promoting features. Previous research has extensively looked into the second aspect, and found that amnesty laws can open the door to negotiations and a short-term termination of civil war. The question of impunity, however, has not been answered extensively. Applying a Historical Institutionalist framework, we assess the impact of the adoption of amnesty laws on societal impunity, defined as any person or group being exempt from punishment or free from the injurious consequences of an action. Case-study evidence from El Salvador shows that amnesty laws are reproducing existing power relations and thus inhibit profound reforms. With the help of amnesty laws, an institutional environment will be created that acts in the favor of involved parties for years, if not decades. We subsequently test these qualitative findings with a newly created dataset on post-war justice sector governance and reform across forty different post-war countries worldwide from 1990 to 2016, and with societal, police, and military impunity as dependent variables. Statistical evidence shows that amnesty laws significantly correlate with higher levels of impunity in a country. A peace agreement, or democracy at the end of war, reduces the risk of impunity even with amnesty laws present.



    Journal of Global Security Studies







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