Legal Committee Presents Working Papers on Amnesty

By YENA SEO, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (expository)

For the past several sessions at the Harvard National Model United Nations (HNMUN) Conference, the Legal Committee has been working diligently to address the issue of amnesty in conflict-torn states. Due to the nature of the Legal Committee, the body cannot enforce or take specific actionable measures, nor can it negotiate specific subject-matter legal negotiations; however, the committee can initiate studies and make recommendations in regards to issues of general international law.

In recent years, amnesty has been a controversial topic on multiple levels of government. While amnesty is typically defined as an official pardon of an offense or criminal conviction, various countries have struggled to come to a consensus of what constitutes amnesty. In conflict-torn areas, the places in which the Legal Committee is focused on for the purposes of this committee, the lines between peace and justice are further blurred as the regions are plagued by non-international armed conflicts. These conflicts can constitute civil wars, or conflict between a militant government and non-state actors.

“Some states and governments can be difficult to work with when dealing with amnesty, especially during times of conflict and tension,” the delegate from Spain said. “We’re trying to work as a body to create and clarify legal definitions that would be applicable in these conflict areas.”

Much of the controversy over the issue of amnesty lies over undefined and conflicting standards on proper conduct in war and appropriate responsibility for criminal actions. State governments and laws can often neglect international human rights and criminal laws, which may prohibit a person from being granted amnesty. While individuals are privy to the rights bestowed upon them by international criminal and humanitarian laws, they may still be tried, charged and convicted by unmerciful and vengeful state governments.

“We need to define amnesty,” the delegate from Brazil said. “We need to monitor it strictly and universally.”

The Legal Committee presented a number of working papers that proposed various definitions of amnesty and crimes against humanity. The working paper “FUNNEL” noted that blanket amnesties and international crimes would be inconsistent with international law, as well as crimes including torture, slavery and other inhumane and degrading treatment. Another working paper, presented by the “Effect Amnesty Response (EAR)” bloc, gave specific definitions of amnesty and torture, as well as stating the reasons for acceptable implementations of amnesty.

Overall, over six working papers were circulated around the committee, many of which had similar clauses. However, several mergers have proved to be inconclusive and unsuccessful. With only a few committee sessions left, the Legal Committee must act quickly to merge and pass working papers that not only define amnesty, but also address the unclear standards on conduct and responsibility that have plagued the international community for decades.

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Delegates from the Legal Committee discuss defining amnesty in areas of armed conflict.

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