International Law and Transitional Justice: The Difficulties of Abiding by the Obligations to Investigate and Prosecute in Countries Facing a Transition

  • Jacopo Roberti di SarsinaEmail author


This chapter broadly examines the relationship between international law and transitions, and specifically adds to the debate on whether countries emerging from periods of conflict or systematic repression enjoy some margin of discretion in designing transitional justice mechanisms in which criminal prosecution is only one of the tools utilized as part of a holistic approach to peace. The chapter commences by defining transition and transitional justice. It then goes on to examine the dilemmas and challenges faced by successor governments, and societies, in abiding by the obligations imposed upon states to investigate and prosecute mass atrocities. Going largely by the experience of South America and Africa, the chapter shows how the balance of power at the time of transition affects the manner in which successor governments decide to deal with their past. It then examines the contentious issue of amnesty and pardon, which are traditionally included in peace agreements with a view to ending conflict and facilitating transition. Placing these domestic criminal policy instruments in the context of the global fight against impunity, the chapter analyzes the latest jurisprudence of human rights treaty bodies to assess whether genuine national reconciliation programs encompassing amnesties also for international crimes may be warranted, together with limited criminal sanctions. It then examines whether an outright prohibition of amnesty may be read into customary law. Lastly, focusing on the case of Uganda and the 2016 Colombian peace agreement, the chapter addresses the role of the ICC, and how it may impact on conflict management efforts.


Military junta Dictatorship Conflict Systematic human rights violations Transition Democracy Rule of law Successor government Accountability Obligations to investigate and prosecute The Military Coup Transitional justice Balance of power Realpolitik Peace agreement National reconciliation program Sierra Leone Amnesty Pardon Statute of limitations Impunity Treaty bodies Latin America ICC International crimes Positive complementarity Uganda Colombia Colombian Final Peace Agreement Special Jurisdiction for Peace Alternative sanctions Principle of continuity Principle of effectiveness 


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Copyright information

© T.M.C. Asser Press and the author 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawAlma Mater Studiorum - University of BolognaBolognaItaly

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