To forgive and forget?

28 October 2009 by Hermione Gee and Karl Dowling

During Uruguay’s national election Sunday, voters were also asked to decide whether to overturn an existing amnesty law that protects military and police personnel accused of crimes committed during the 1973-1985 military junta.

Although the measure failed to pass, Uruguay’s amnesty law is an ongoing cause for controversy in the country and presidential candidate José Mujica has vowed to overturn the law if elected.

Mark Freeman is an expert on amnesty law and author of the forthcoming book, Necessary Evils: Amnesties and the Search for Justice. He spoke to the IJT’s Hermione Gee about today’s shifting attitudes towards amnesties.

How are amnesty laws applied?
Amnesty laws have always been a quite controversial topic, especially today in the era of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Historically, amnesty was used to actually draw a line in the sand in terms of the past, to basically say there were some terrible things that happened in the past but for the sake of our society’s future we are not going to look back but look forward. But things have really shifted, in the past decade in particular. In fact it’s almost a sea change, and today amnesties are generally considered - especially if they cover crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide - to be unacceptable by, among others, the United Nations Secretariat.

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