Amnesty law

Amnesty law

An amnesty law is any law that retroactively exempts a select group of people, usually military leaders and government leaders, from criminal liability for crimes committed. [ [ Amnesty] By William Bourdon, Crimes of War Project, The Book]

Most allegations involve human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.


Many countries have been plagued by revolutions, coups and civil war. After such turmoil the leaders of the outgoing regime that want, or are forced, to restore democracy in their country are confronted with possible litigation regarding the "counterinsurgency" actions taken during their reign. It is not uncommon there are allegations of human rights abuse and crimes against humanity. To overcome the dilemma of facing prosecution many countries have absolved those involved for their alleged crimes.

Amnesty laws are often also equally problematic to opposing side as cost-benefit problem: Is bringing the old leadership to justice worth extending the conflict or rule of previous regime with accompanying increase in suffering and casualties as old regime refuses to let go of power?

Victims, their families and human rights organisations – e.g., Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Humanitarian Law Project - have opposed such laws through demonstrations and litigation, their argument being that an amnesty law violates local constitutional law and international law by upholding impunity.

Even though suspects are no longer subject to judicial review under local law their amnesty does not invalidate international law. With that in mind the International Criminal Court was established to ensure perpetrators do not evade command responsibility for their crimes should the local government fail to prosecute.

Countries with amnesty laws


Afghanistan has adopted a law precluding prosecution for war crimes committed in conflicts in previous decades. [ [ AFGHANISTAN: AMNESTY LAW DRAWS CRITICISM, PRAISE] by Ron Synovitz, EurasiaNet, 3/17/07]


A decree by the President in 2006 makes prosecution impossible for human rights abuses, and even muzzle open debate by criminalizing public discussion about the nation's decade-long conflict. [Algeria
* [ Algeria: New Amnesty Law Will Ensure Atrocities Go Unpunished] The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), March 1, 2006
* [ Algeria : New Amnesty Law Will Ensure Atrocities Go Unpunished - Muzzles Discussion of Civil Conflict] Algeria-Watch


The National Commission for Forced Disappearances (CONADEP), led by writer Ernesto Sabato, was created in 1983. Two years later, the "Juicio a las Juntas" (Trial of the Juntas) largely succeeded in proving the crimes of the various "juntas" which had formed the self-styled National Reorganization Process. Most of the top officers who were tried were sentenced to life imprisonment: Jorge Rafael Videla, Emilio Eduardo Massera, Roberto Eduardo Viola, Armando Lambruschini, Raúl Agosti, Rubén Graffigna, Leopoldo Galtieri, Jorge Anaya and Basilio Lami Dozo. However, Raúl Alfonsín's government voted two amnesty laws in order to avoid the escalation of trials against militaries involved in human rights abuses: the 1986 "Ley de Punto Final" and the 1987 "Ley de Obediencia Debida". President Carlos Menem then pardoned the leaders of the "junta" and the surviving commanders of the armed leftist guerrilla organizations in 1989–1990. Following persistent activism by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and other associations, the amnesty laws were overturned by the Argentine Supreme Court nearly twenty years later, in June 2005. However, the ruling wasn't applied to the guerrilla leaders, who remained at large.



When Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London as part of a failed extradition to Spain, which was demanded by magistrate Baltasar Garzón, a bit more information concerning Condor was revealed. One of the lawyers who asked for his extradition talked about an attempt to assassinate Carlos Altamirano, leader of the Chilean Socialist Party: Pinochet would have met Italian terrorist Stefano Delle Chiaie in Madrid in 1975, during Franco's funeral, in order to have him murdered. [ [ Las Relaciones Secretas entre Pinochet, Franco y la P2 - Conspiracion para matar] , Equipo Nizkor, February 4, 1999 es icon ] But as with Bernardo Leighton, who was shot in Rome in 1975 after a meeting the same year in Madrid between Stefano Delle Chiaie, former CIA agent Michael Townley and anti-Castrist Virgilio Paz Romero, the plan ultimately failed.

Chilean judge Juan Guzmán Tapia would eventually make jurisprudence concerning "permanent kidnapping" crime: since the bodies of the victims could not be found, he deemed that the kidnapping may be said to continue, therefore refusing to grant to the military the benefices of the statute of limitation. This helped indict Chilean militaries who were benefitting from a 1978 self-amnesty decree.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

In November 2005 an amnesty law was adopted regarding offences committed between August 1996 and June 2003. [ [ Amnesty law passed without MPs from Kabila's party] by IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. ]

El Salvador

Following the twelve year long civil war an amnesty law was passed in 1993. [ [ Amnesty Law Biggest Obstacle to Human Rights, Say Activists] by Raúl Gutiérrez, Inter Press Service News Agency, May 19, 2007]


An amnesty law for crimes perpetrated before March 28, 1991, was enacted in 1991 [ [ Lebanon: Mass Graves - Exhumations must be in line with international standards, and perpetrators brought to justice] by Amnesty International, December 5, 2005] after which the militias (with the important exception of Hezbollah) were dissolved, and the Lebanese Armed Forces began to slowly rebuild themselves as Lebanon's only major non-sectarian institution.



On 14 June 1995 President Alberto Fujimori signed a bill granting amnesty for any human rights abuses or other criminal acts committed from May 1982 to 14 June 1995 that was part of the counterinsurgency war by military, police, and civilians. [ [ The New Amnesty Law in Peru] by NACLA Report on the Americas (Sept/Oct 1995)]


A bill absolved anyone convicted for committing political crimes. Among themthose who were convicted of having assassinated a constitutional court judge in 1993. [ [ Senegal opposition to amnesty law] By Tidiane Sy, BBC, January, 11, 2005]

ierra Leone

On 7 July 1999, the "Lomé Peace Agreement" was signed. Along with a cease-fire agreement between the government of Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) it contained proposals to "expunge responsibility for all offences including international crimes, otherwise known as delict jus gentium such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, torture and other serious violations of international humanitarian law." [ [ Is the Sierra Leonean Amnesty Law Compatible with International Law?] by Phenyo Keiseng Rakate, MenschenRechtsMagazin Heft 3 / 2000]

outh Africa

Following the end of apartheid South Africa decided not to prosecute but instead created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Its aim was to investigate and elucidate the crimes committed during the apartheid regime while not indicting in an attempt to make the alleged perpetrators more compliant to cooperate.

The United States

During the War on Terror the Bush administration enacted the Military Commissions Act (MCA) in an attempt to regulate the legal procedures involving detainees called illegal combatant. Part of the act was an amendment which retroactively rewrote the War Crimes Act effectively making policy makers, i.e. politicians and military leaders, and those applying policy, i.e. CIA interogators and soldiers, no longer subject to legal prosecution under US law for what before the amendment was defined as a war crime. [No longer punishable under US law
* [ Thoughts on the "Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006"] John Dean, FindLaw,Sep. 22, 2006
* [ The Military Commissions Act of 2006: A Short Primer - Part Two of a Two-Part Series] By JOANNE MARINER, FindLaw, Oct. 25, 2006
* [ Why The Military Commissions Act is No Moderate Compromise] By MICHAEL C. DORF, FindLaw, Oct. 11, 2006
] Because of that critics describe the MCA as an amnesty law for crimes committed in the War on Terror. [ [ Pushing Back on Detainee Act] by Michael Ratner is president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, The Nation, October 4, 2006] [Military Commissions Act of 2006
* [ Why The Military Commissions Act is No Moderate Compromise] By MICHAEL C. DORF, FindLaw, Oct. 11, 2006
* [ The CIA, the MCA, and Detainee Abuse] By JOANNE MARINER, FindLaw, November 8, 2006
* [ Europe's Investigations of the CIA's Crimes] By JOANNE MARINER, FindLaw, February 20, 2007
* [,hentoff,75255,2.html Bush's War Crimes Cover-up] by Nat Hentoff, Village Voice, December 8th, 2006
* [ The John McCain Charade] by Robert Kuttner, the Boston Globe, October 1, 2006
* [ Bush's "Dirty War" Amnesty Law] By Robert Parry, Consortium News, September 23, 2006
* [ Republican Torture Laws Will Live in History] By Larisa Alexandrovna, AlterNet, October 2, 2006.

ee also

*Command responsibility
*Crime against humanity
*Criminal law
*International humanitarian law
*International Law
*Universal jurisdiction
*War crimes


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