The Legal Application of Amnesty
Amnesty law is a law is retroactively placed in order to exempt a specific group of individuals. It has been traditionally used as a political tool in order to compromise and allow reunion after a war. An act of amnesty is normally given to a group of people who have allegedly committed crimes against the state, such as rebellion, treason, or desertion from the military.
It is also applied to the government or military leaders so they do not become liable for the crimes they have committed. Often, amnesty is used in circumstances that deal with crimes against humanity or human rights abuses.
The use of amnesty is particularly common when dealing with countries that have experienced civil war, revolutions, or coups. In chaotic times, the outgoing regime’s leaders that want democracy or are forced to restore it within their country may be confronted with litigation regarding the counterinsurgency during their time in power.
Often, allegations of crimes against humanity or human rights abuse can to put forth as well. In order to overcome the possibility of facing prosecution for this allegation, some countries have absolved those through amnesty.
Amnesty laws can also be equally problematic to the opposition as a cost-benefit situation. There is a question of whether it is worth extending a conflict or rule to the new regime from the previous one, which can be accompanied with an increase in casualties and suffering when the previous regime resists losing its power.
In United States history, the first act of amnesty was offered in 1795 by President George Washington to the participants of the Whiskey Rebellion which allowed the American government to forgive the crimes involved, in exchange for their participants’ signatures on an oath of loyalty. Other historically significant amnesties in were granted in the United States during the Civil War and Vietnam War.
There is no specific or exact constitutional or legislative mention of amnesty, making its legal use vague. Most often it is justified by Article 2 Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Here the Constitution suggests that the president has the power to grant both reprieves and pardons for any offenses committed against the United States. While amnesty is typically granted before prosecution and a pardon is given after one, the distinction between the two is still vague. Courts often interchange the terms.
Amnesty laws are often opposed by various organizations including Amnesty International and Humanitarian Law Project as well the victims and their families. To these groups, amnesty laws are allowing a violation of both local and international law which should be corrected.
Even though someone who receives amnesty is no longer subject being judged local law, this amnesty does not invalidate law on an international level. This was the factor that caused the International Criminal Court to be established in order to ensure that those who received amnesty still are held responsible for their crimes if the local government does not prosecute the individual.