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Persistent or Eroding Impunity? The Divergent Effects of Legal Challenges to Amnesty Laws for Past Human Rights Violations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2014

Francesca Lessa
Affiliation:
Dr Francesca Lessa, Junior Research Fellow, St Anne's College, Post-Doctoral Research Officer, Latin American Centre, francesca.lessa@lac.ox.ac.uk; Tricia D Olsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver, tricia.olsen@du.edu; Professor Leigh A Payne, Director, Latin American Centre and Professor of Sociology, Latin American Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford, leigh.payne@sant.ox.ac.uk; Gabriel Pereira, DPhil Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, Assistant Researcher, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, gabriel.pereira@st-hughs.ox.ac.uk; Andrew G Reiter, Assistant Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College, areiter@mtholyoke.edu.
Tricia D Olsen
Affiliation:
Dr Francesca Lessa, Junior Research Fellow, St Anne's College, Post-Doctoral Research Officer, Latin American Centre, francesca.lessa@lac.ox.ac.uk; Tricia D Olsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver, tricia.olsen@du.edu; Professor Leigh A Payne, Director, Latin American Centre and Professor of Sociology, Latin American Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford, leigh.payne@sant.ox.ac.uk; Gabriel Pereira, DPhil Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, Assistant Researcher, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, gabriel.pereira@st-hughs.ox.ac.uk; Andrew G Reiter, Assistant Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College, areiter@mtholyoke.edu.
Leigh A Payne
Affiliation:
Dr Francesca Lessa, Junior Research Fellow, St Anne's College, Post-Doctoral Research Officer, Latin American Centre, francesca.lessa@lac.ox.ac.uk; Tricia D Olsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver, tricia.olsen@du.edu; Professor Leigh A Payne, Director, Latin American Centre and Professor of Sociology, Latin American Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford, leigh.payne@sant.ox.ac.uk; Gabriel Pereira, DPhil Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, Assistant Researcher, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, gabriel.pereira@st-hughs.ox.ac.uk; Andrew G Reiter, Assistant Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College, areiter@mtholyoke.edu.
Gabriel Pereira
Affiliation:
Dr Francesca Lessa, Junior Research Fellow, St Anne's College, Post-Doctoral Research Officer, Latin American Centre, francesca.lessa@lac.ox.ac.uk; Tricia D Olsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver, tricia.olsen@du.edu; Professor Leigh A Payne, Director, Latin American Centre and Professor of Sociology, Latin American Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford, leigh.payne@sant.ox.ac.uk; Gabriel Pereira, DPhil Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, Assistant Researcher, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, gabriel.pereira@st-hughs.ox.ac.uk; Andrew G Reiter, Assistant Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College, areiter@mtholyoke.edu.
Andrew G Reiter
Affiliation:
Dr Francesca Lessa, Junior Research Fellow, St Anne's College, Post-Doctoral Research Officer, Latin American Centre, francesca.lessa@lac.ox.ac.uk; Tricia D Olsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Business Ethics and Legal Studies, Daniels College of Business, University of Denver, tricia.olsen@du.edu; Professor Leigh A Payne, Director, Latin American Centre and Professor of Sociology, Latin American Centre, St Antony's College, University of Oxford, leigh.payne@sant.ox.ac.uk; Gabriel Pereira, DPhil Candidate, Department of Politics and International Relations, Assistant Researcher, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, gabriel.pereira@st-hughs.ox.ac.uk; Andrew G Reiter, Assistant Professor of Politics, Mount Holyoke College, areiter@mtholyoke.edu.
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Abstract

Transitional countries have struggled to overcome impunity for human rights violations committed by past authoritarian regimes. While some scholars have hailed the emergence of a ‘justice cascade’, a ‘justice revolution’, and an ‘age of accountability’, our research highlights the persistence of amnesty laws despite efforts to erode them. This article examines 63 amnesties for human rights violations committed by state agents that were enacted in 34 transitional countries from 1970 to 2011, and the 161 challenges that endeavoured to undermine the power of these laws.

We find significant variation in the outcome of challenges. While some lead to the removal or weakening of amnesty laws, others validate them. We explain the variation using an explanatory model that focuses on the characteristics of four actors: civil society, international governmental and non-governmental agencies, domestic executives and judicial leaders. Time also plays a conditioning role in our framework. We illustrate our argument by presenting emblematic country case studies. We conclude that even when amnesty laws are displaced or eroded, impunity tends to persist in some form.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press and The Faculty of Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 2014 

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References

1 Sikkink, Kathryn, The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics (WW Norton 2011).Google Scholar

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5 Mallinder (2008), ibid 19–20.

6 Louise Mallinder, ‘Amnesties’ Challenge to the Global Accountability Norm? Interpreting Regional and International Trends in Amnesty Enactment' in Lessa and Payne (n 3) 69; Kathryn Sikkink, ‘The Age of Accountability: The Global Rise of Individual Criminal Accountability’ in Lessa and Payne (n 3) 19.

7 Olsen, Tricia D, Payne, Leigh A and Reiter, Andrew G, Transitional Justice in Balance: Comparing Processes, Weighing Efficacy (United States Institute of Peace 2010)Google Scholar. Keesing's World News Archive is their only source, but they nonetheless claim a high degree of consistency with the Mallinder data set.

8 The Transitional Justice Collaborative Data Set was partly released in November 2013; currently only data on trials is available for browsing; amnesty and truth commission data will be available in early 2014: see Transitional Justice Collaborative, https://transitionaljusticedata.com.

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13 Authors' translation; the original text of the law is available here: ‘Ley de Amnistía Chilena’, Equipo Nizkor, http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/chile/doc/amnistia.html.

14 Amnesty International, ‘Amnesty International Report 1997 – Bangladesh’, UNHCR, 1 January 1997, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6a9f73c.html. See also ‘The Indemnity Ordinance, 1975 – Bangladesh’, The Bangladesh Gazette, 26 September 1975, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/bangladesh/document/actandordinances/ideminig_ordinance.htm.

15 Amnesty International, ‘A Legacy of Impunity – A Threat to Algeria's Future’, March 2009, MDE 28/001/2009, 2009, 16.

16 See Massacres of El Mozote and Nearby Places (2012) Inter-Am Ct HR (Ser C) No 252; Gelman v Uruguay (2011) Inter-Am Ct HR (Ser C) No 221; Case of Barrios Altos v Peru (2001) Inter-Am Ct HR (Ser C) No 75.

17 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, OAS Res XXX, reprinted in Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OAS/SerL/V/I.4 Rev 9 (2003).

18 American Convention on Human Rights, Pact of San Jose, Costa Rica (entered into force 18 July 1978) 1144 UNTS 123.

19 Although in our larger study we tracked pressure against amnesty laws by three INGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Centre for Transitional Justice), because they do not constitute legal challenges we have excluded them from the analysis in this article.

20 See Decreto N° 145-96, Ley de Reconciliación Nacional, UNHCR, 27 December 1996, http://www.refworld.org/docid/3dbe6a606.html.

21 Individuals accused of being the intellectual authors of Myrna Mack's murder filed a petition for amnesty in January 1997, arguing that her murder was a political crime and therefore fell within the scope of the amnesty. In February 1997, first instance Judge Delgado argued instead that the murder was not ‘one of the crimes listed as a related common crime’ in the amnesty: see Margaret Popkin, ‘Guatemala's National Reconciliation Law: Combating Impunity or Continuing it?’ (1996) 24 Revista IIDH 174. More recently, on 23 December 2008, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court rejected an appeal for amnesty by army officer Marco Antonio Sanchez Samayoa. He is accused of participating in the disappearance of five civilians in the village of El Jute, Chiquimula. An appeals court had earlier freed Sanchez, ruling that he was entitled to amnesty. This was later upheld by the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court, however, ruled that, although the law was applicable in the case, the Supreme Court judges had failed to take into account its exclusion of ‘certain crimes related to human rights violations’ from the ambit of permissible amnesties: see Naomi Roht-Arriaza and Emily Braid, ‘De Facto and De Jure Amnesty Laws in Central America’ in Lessa and Payne (n 3) 194.

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29 For a discussion of the role of the executive power and presidents in influencing accountability see Pion-Berlin, David, ‘To Prosecute or to Pardon? Human Rights Decisions in the Latin American Southern Cone’ (1994) 16 Human Rights Quarterly 105Google Scholar; Roehrig, Terence, ‘Executive Leadership and the Continuing Quest for Justice in Argentina’ (2009) 31 Human Rights Quarterly 721.Google Scholar

30 The Full Stop Law of December 1986 and the Due Obedience Law of June 1987 severely restricted the prosecution of human rights violations committed by middle and higher ranking state agents indicted by March 1987. For the text of the Full Stop Law see InfoLEG, http://www.infoleg.gov.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/20000-24999/21864/norma.htm; for the text of the Due Obedience Law see InfoLEG, http://www.infoleg.gov.ar/infolegInternet/anexos/20000-24999/21746/norma.htm.

31 For a detailed discussion of the Argentine process, see Par Engstrom and Gabriel Pereira, ‘From Amnesty to Accountability: The Ebb and Flow in the Search for Justice in Argentina’ in Lessa and Payne (n 3) 97.

32 For a discussion of these strategies and their outcomes, see ibid.

33 Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Informe Anual 2002 (Siglo XXI 2002).

34 See Report 28/92 – Cases 10.147, 10.240, 10.262, 10.309 and 10.311, Argentina (2 October 1992) (IACHR). See also UN Human Rights Committee, ‘Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Argentina’, 3 November 2000, CCPR/CO/70/ARG.

35 Engstrom and Pereira (n 31).

36 Kirchner won the presidential election with only about 22% of the votes after competing candidate Menem withdrew his candidacy before the second round and after having gained about 25% of the votes in the first round. Menem was widely expected to lose the second round with a significant margin.

37 See ‘Hubo 439 condenas en todo el país por crímenes de lesa humanidad’, Centro de Información Judicial Argentina, 31 May 2013, http://www.cij.gov.ar/nota-11538-Hubo-439-condenas-en-todo-el-pais-por-crimenes-de-lesa-humanidad.html.

38 The Supreme Court of Argentina has pointed out that the judiciary was initially not adequately prepared to administer the many and often complex judicial cases because of a lack of resources: see ‘Informe: Delitos de lesa humanidad Informe sobre la evolución de las causas Actualizado al 16 de julio de 2010’, Centro de Information Judicial, http://www.cij.gov.ar/lesa-humanidad.html.

39 Par Engstrom, ‘Transnational Human Rights and Democratization: Argentina and the Inter-American Human Rights System (1976–2007)’, DPhil dissertation, University of Oxford, 2010.

40 Lessa, Francesca, Memory and Transitional Justice in Argentina and Uruguay: Against Impunity (Palgrave Macmillan 2013).Google Scholar

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42 For more details, see Jo-Marie Burt and Francesca Lessa, ‘Recent Sentence by Uruguayan Supreme Court Obstructs Search for Truth and Justice,’ Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 28 February 2013, http://www.wola.org/commentary/recent_sentence_by_uruguayan_supreme_court_obstructs_search_for_truth_and_justice.

43 See the Observatorio Derechos Humanos website for up-to-date information on trials and sentencing in Chile: ‘Cifras Causas DDHH Chile/Latest Human Rights Case Statistics for Chile’, Observatorio Derechos Humanos, http://www.icso.cl/observatorio-derechos-humanos/cifras-causas-case-statistics.

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46 ibid.

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48 Almonacid-Arellano and Others (2006) Inter-Am Ct HR (Ser C) No 154.

49 Collins (n 45).

50 For discussion of some failed initiatives to annul or restrict the amnesty see Centro de Derechos Humanos (n 47) and Collins (n 45).

51 Collins (n 45).

52 For an example, see Leigh A Payne's discussion of the Punta Peuco prison where Manuel Contreras, second in command in the Pinochet regime, was imprisoned: Payne, Leigh A, Unsettling Accounts: Neither Truth nor Reconciliation in Confessions of State Violence (Duke University Press 2008) 153–54.Google Scholar

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56 Full text of 1979 Brazilian amnesty law, please see Lei No 6.683 de 28 de Augosto de 1979, Diário Oficial da União Secao, I-Parte I., http://www2.camara.leg.br/legin/fed/lei/1970-1979/lei-6683-28-agosto-1979-366522-normaatualizada-pl.pdf .

57 Daniel Arao Filho Reis, O golpe e a dictadura militar: quarenta anos depois (1964–2004) (Edusc 2004) 47.

58 Emily Braid, Francesca Lessa, and Gabriel Pereira, ‘Unravelling Amnesties: The Quest for Justice in Latin America’, paper presented at the 2012 International Conference on Law and Society, Honolulu, Hawai'i (US), 7 June 2012.

59 Schneider, Nina, ‘Impunity in Post-authoritarian Brazil: The Supreme Court's Recent Verdict on the Amnesty Law’ (2011) 90 European Review of Latin American and Carribean Studies 39.Google Scholar

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61 American Convention on Human Rights (n 18).

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67 Case of Barrios Altos v Peru (n 16).

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73 Case of Gelman v Uruguay (n 16) para 278.

74 Case of Gomes Lund et al (‘Guerrilha do Araguaia’) v Brazil (n 60).

75 ibid para 325.9.

76 Daniel Roncaglia, ‘Ação contra Curió por sequestro é suspensa’, Folha de S Paulo, 4 December 2012.