This article explores how conditional amnesties can assist post-conflict societies to recover truth. It examines how such amnesties can be used optimally to achieve the best results as part of transitional justice mechanisms. Thus, a central question is to see how amnesties can be used for truth recovery purposes. For that reason, the status and role of amnesties, and whether such amnesties can be used to learn more about the past and assist in truth recovery is explored. The article explores what amnesties are, how prevalent they are and how amnesties can be used optimally to achieve the best results. An issue that is also explored is whether amnesties are needed for perpetrators to participate in transitional justice mechanisms. The argument that is made, in this regard, is that amnesty is absolutely necessary to persuade perpetrators to testify. If they do not have such legal protection, perpetrators fear the legal consequences that may result if they admit to crimes for which they have not been charged. Another question that is examined concerns whether amnesties, and specifically conditional amnesties, pass international law muster. This article therefore investigates the continual and extensive use of amnesty to determine whether a conditional amnesty violates international law. The article suggests how a conditional amnesty process could be structured and what difficulties such a process should avoid if perpetrators are to enter such a process.
Too little is provided, not only in international law, but also by the United Nations, for victims around the world. This article therefore argues that a new paradigm is needed. It uses the conflict in Syria since 2011, specifically focusing on how enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions have been used, to examine these questions. It has been reported that at least 150,000 people have been affected by these practices, but the number may be as high as a million. Because the state has used these practices methodically, they amount to a widespread and systemic attack on the civilian population and, therefore, to crimes against humanity. While the Syrian regime is primarily responsible, non-state actors have also been committing these types of crimes. The article discusses the general processes that have been set up to deal with the conflict in international law and by the United Nations in places like Syria. It finds that very little has been done to end the conflict in Syria, other than mediation. The article then reviews the international processes dealing with disappearances and detentions in Syria that families can report to, and the role these institutions have played so far. It again finds that very little has been achieved. The article also examines other countries where processes have been set up to deal with missing and disappeared persons, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, and Georgia, to learn the lessons from these past processes for the Syrian situation. It is argued that, generally when mass atrocities occur, the UN on rare occasions will create an accountability process, but never creates a process that focuses on the needs of victims: finding their loved ones, getting them released from custody if they are alive, or finding the truth about what happened to them and where their remains are. The article therefore argues that a new mechanism is needed for Syria (but also for other places) to get people released, and to find information on others whose whereabouts are unknown due to the conflict and/or the mass human rights abuses. It contends that the mechanism could be set up by the UN, and if not, by a regional actor such as the European Union, or by several states. It is reasoned that the mechanism ought to have a Board made up of a representative each from the International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc), the International Commission on Missing Persons (icmp), the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (wgeid), the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions (wgad) and a Syrian organisation, elected each year.