The use of amnesty for human rights violations has been heavily criticised on legal, ethical and political grounds. Yet amnesties have been the most popular transitional justice mechanisms over the past four decades, particularly in the context of internal armed conflict. States justify these amnesties by claiming they are important tools to secure peace. But how successful is amnesty in accomplishing these goals? This article seeks to answer this question by analysing the use and effectiveness of 236 amnesties used in internal armed conflicts worldwide since 1970. The article first creates a typology of the use of amnesty in the context of internal armed conflict. It then qualitatively examines the impact on peace of each type of amnesty. The article finds that most amnesties granted in the context of internal armed conflict have no demonstrable impact on peace and security. Yet amnesties granted as carrots to entice the surrender of armed actors occasionally succeed in bringing about the demobilisation of individual combatants or even entire armed groups. More importantly, amnesties extended as part of a peace process are effective in initiating negotiations, securing agreements, and building the foundation for long-lasting peace.
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