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Avoiding International Human Rights Law in the Pursuit of Peace

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-83982-279-7, eISBN: 978-1-83982-278-0

ISSN: 1059-4337

Publication date: 4 May 2020


This chapter examines the delicate balance achieved by apex courts in new democracies when dealing with impunity for rights violations during times of transitional justice. While international law has clearly rejected amnesties for past rights violations, domestic politics sometimes incorporate amnesties as part of larger peace settlements. This puts courts in the difficult situation of balancing the competing demands of law and politics. Courts have achieved equipoise in this situation by adopting substantive interpretations and procedural approaches that use international law’s rights-based language but without implementing international law’s restrictions on amnesties. In many cases, courts do this without acknowledging the necessarily pragmatic nature of their decisions. In fact, oftentimes courts find ways of avoiding having to make any substantive decision, effectively removing themselves from a dispute that could call into question their adherence to international legal norms that transcend politics. In doing so, they empower political actors to continue down the road toward negotiated peace settlements, while at the same time protecting the courts’ legitimacy as institutions uniquely situated to protect international human rights norms – including those they have effectively deemphasized in the process.



Kendall, C. (2020), "Avoiding International Human Rights Law in the Pursuit of Peace", Sarat, A. (Ed.) Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 82), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 55-91.



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