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Troubles-era justice: How other countries tackled the past

In South Africa a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up in 1995 to deal with offences and human rights violations carried out under the apartheid regime. The basic trade-off was that participants would be guaranteed freedom from prosecution.

Both members of the apartheid regime's security apparatus and guerrillas who fought against them were covered by the provisions.

The hearings were often emotional, with counsellors helping distraught victims through the process, but the commission was generally thought to be a success. This model is favoured by Sinn Fein.

In Spain after the fall of Franco the new democratic government introduced the 1977 amnesty law. It pardoned all crimes committed in General Franco's 36-year rule and the preceding civil war during which hundreds of thousands died or disappeared. Rather than having any truth recovery process the Spanish parliament passed a "pact of forgiving" which choked off investigation of the troubled period.

Recently, support for this arrangement has weakened and in 2007 a "historical memory" law was passed allowing for the release of documents. The UN has recently called for the amnesty law to be overturned.

Argentina is one country where an amnesty law has been overturned. It was introduced in 1987 to halt the escalating number of trials of State officials thought guilty of offences during a long period of rule by the military. The aim was to promote social harmony and Carlos Menem, the president, copperfastened the process by officially pardoning a number of junta leaders in 1989.

This provoked protests by victims' groups. The amnesty for junta officials was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court in June 2005. Guerrillas who fought against the ousted regime remained immune from prosecution.

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