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Official Amnesties

Explore research on the use of official amnesties as a tool to help prevent mass atrocities.

Overview of the Evidence

Our research review includes 30 reports: 2 that address the effects of official amnesties on mass atrocities and 28 that address the effects of official amnesties on closely related outcomes, such as civilian killings, human rights violations, and conflict recurrence. It found the following:

  • A mix of findings as to whether official amnesties were effective in helping prevent mass atrocities or closely-related outcomes, and 
  • Limited evidence on which specific factors contribute to the effectiveness of official amnesties in helping prevent mass atrocities.

About Official Amnesties


An official amnesty is “an official legislative or executive act whereby criminal investigation or prosecution of an individual, a group or class of persons and/or certain offences is prospectively or retroactively barred, and any penalties cancelled” (ICRC 2017, p. 1).

Theory of Change

If official amnesties increase the expected benefits of alternative courses of action to committing mass atrocities, including by encouraging abusive leaders to give up power, they would reduce the likelihood or severity of mass atrocities.

Strategies This Tool Can Support

(1) Dissuading potential perpetrators from committing mass atrocities
(2) Facilitating leadership or political transition