International human rights bodies have declared amnesties for serious human rights violations incompatible with human rights law. As a result, amnesties have been revoked many years after their award. They have thus enabled criminal prosecutions for alleged crimes committed in the distant past. This has particularly been the case in the Inter-American system. Currently, a long debate on the compatibility of amnesties with human rights norms is taking place. The present contribution focuses on a topic hitherto at the fringes of this debate; namely, whether the revocation of amnesties and the initiation of proceedings against the accused, many years after the award of the amnesty, are consistent with the principle of legality. Certain domestic courts have argued that they are not, while the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has decided otherwise. This Article reflects on the reasoning of both sides. It argues that the revocation of amnesties raises valid concerns as regards the principle of legality, which should be seriously considered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It is suggested that the protection of the accused from the risk of a trial made unfair due to the passing of time and the rights of victims of access to justice require the performance of a more nuanced balancing exercise on the part of the Court.
The Italian Yearbook of International Law Online – Brill
Published: Oct 11, 2017
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