The control of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights over amnesty laws and other exemption measures: Legitimacy assessment

Article by Juan Pablo Perez-Leon-Acevedo in Leiden Journal of International Law


In 2001, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) seminally found self-amnesty laws on serious human rights violations to be null and void. However, later national reactions showed that this supranational control has faced challenges. Such supranational judicial authority has been exercised where amnesty laws and other exemption measures blocked judicial cases, democratic referendums upheld legislation, and peace-making processes existed.

This article seeks to determine whether the traditionally interventionist jurisprudence of the IACtHR on amnesty laws/exemption measures has been legitimate under global constitutionalism standards. The standards considered are: human rights, namely, rights of victims of mass atrocities; consistency or coherence of this jurisprudence with international, regional and national practices; and democratic legitimacy and/or accountability considerations.

Victim rights have underlain the IACtHR’s jurisprudence on amnesty laws and similar measures. Importantly, developments on victim rights are not exclusive to the IACtHR as case law of other supranational human rights bodies evidences. Among human rights courts and bodies, the IACtHR has exercised the highest level of control over amnesty laws/exemption measures, even nullifying national legislation. However, the IACtHR’s case law shares common principles with UN/regional jurisprudential developments and domestic practices in terms of inadmissibility of amnesties and other exemption measures in cases of serious abuses. Unlike the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the IACtHR has not deferred to sovereign state appreciation (conventionality control doctrine). Nevertheless, the IACtHR has arguably begun to move towards more ‘moderated’ approaches. This is advisable under democratic legitimacy considerations.

The article is available here

Tags: Human Rights, Legitimacy, accountability
Published July 20, 2020 11:30 AM - Last modified Aug. 10, 2020 12:04 PM