The Amnesty Law Database.
Introduction to the Amnesty Law Database
The Amnesty Law Database was
created by Louise Mallinder as part of her doctoral research (2003-6),
and developed as part of the AHRC-funded Beyond Legalism project (Ref
AH/E008984/1). The database was designed to collate and compare data
on amnesty laws that have been introduced since the end of the Second
World War. As of February 2010, the database contains information on
over 500 amnesty laws in 138 countries that were introduced between
1945 and February 2010. For each amnesty process, where possible, the
database contains information on how the amnesty was enacted, what
its effects were, how it was implemented, what crimes it covered, whom
it benefited, and whether there were conditions attached.
seeks to enhance global understandings and debates on amnesty laws
by broadening discussions beyond high profile amnesty processes in
the Americas and South Africa to consider state practice in other regions
of the world and more recent examples of amnesty legislation. The database
also aims to illustrate the diversity of forms that amnesties. The
data gathered should be useful to researchers and practitioners from
a range of disciplines including transitional justice, international
criminal law, conflict transformation, peace studies, development studies,
criminology and international relations. It is also hoped that researchers
and practitioners from these disciplines will contribute to enhancing
some of the profiles on the Amnesty Law Database by suggesting amendments
or recommending supplementary materials for inclusion.
At the international level, the term ‘amnesty’ lacks
clarity as domestic legal rules governing amnesty laws differ considerably.
In addition, the term ‘amnesty’ is often popularly used
to describe situations that are not the subject of this study, for
example, amnesties for owners of dangerous weapons in the United Kingdom,
or for illegal immigrants in many states.
The Amnesty Law Database
contains information only on amnesties that have occurred since the
Second World War and which relate to violent political crises. These
can include civil unrest, military coups, international or internal
conflict, authoritarian government, or states that are transitioning
from such crises. Within amnesties in these contexts, the beneficiaries
can range from members of the armed forces and public officials, to
insurgents and resistance fighters, to political prisoners, and to
refugees. This study, rather than sampling, seeks to include all amnesty
laws introduced by states that meet these criteria to facilitate a
comprehensive and up-to-date comparison.
In addition, where amnesty
measures were combined with other forms of leniency, such as non-judicial
processes, pardons or early release schemes this is also noted in the
Amnesty Law Database. Although such processes are not strictly speaking
amnesties, it was decided that they should be incorporated into the
database as they allow for the avoidance of penal sanctions and could
illustrate some innovative approaches to the question of amnesty.
A wide-range of documentary sources have been used to
compile the information within the Amnesty Law Database and to identify
the categorisations employed. These sources include:
- Academic writing
- Jurisprudence from national
and international courts
- International treaties
given by treaty-monitoring bodies
- Statements by intergovernmental
- Reports by states (particularly Country Reports
on Human Rights Practices from the US Department of State)
by NGOs (particularly Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch)
Using documentary methods made it possible to acquire information
on a large number of amnesty laws. In addition, for the case study
jurisdictions in the Beyond Legalism project, documentary evidence
was supplemented by fieldwork. For each amnesty profile in the database,
the descriptions were drawn from a range of sources and readers are
encouraged to consult the list of sources at the end of each profile.
Due to the variety of documentary sources employed, problems were
occasionally encountered regarding confidence in the materials. For
example, there were differing translations of court cases or legislation
and there was bias and inaccuracy in some sources, especially newspaper
articles and government publications. It was particularly difficult
to gauge the reliability of certain newspapers as they were obtained
from the Lexis-Nexis news archives, which contain a variety of local
and regional publications. To try to combat these problems, efforts
were made to base the description of each case on as wide a variety
of sources as possible, using the information that was most frequently
occurring amongst these sources.
In addition, for some amnesties, particularly
those in South Africa and the Americas, there was a relative abundance
of information, whereas in other instances, it was much harder to obtain
detailed information on amnesty. This was due to factors such as language
difficulties, the time that had elapsed since the amnesty was introduced,
the lack of transparency in the state concerned, or a relative lack
of academic research on the relevant transitional state. Where possible,
efforts were made to contact individuals working in these countries,
including civil servants, academics, and NGO workers to obtain information.
However, due to the limitations in accessing sufficient data on some
amnesty processes, the Beyond Legalism team hope that by putting this
database online, we can trigger a collaborative effort in researching
amnesties and would gratefully appreciate any suggestions of additional
sources or corrections, and of course any contributions will be acknowledged
in the list of sources of the relevant amnesty profile(s).
The selection of the categories with the database was based
upon the international legal standards, the issues that arose from
the secondary sources relating to each amnesty law, and from frequently
occurring elements within amnesty legislation.
laws provides a means of systematically compiling information from
a wide variety of sources, it structures the analysis and facilitates
comparison between the amnesty processes and the identification of
trends over time and across regions. This method tends to emphasise
the similarities between the approaches taken by governments and courts.
However, as each state is undergoing, or has undergone, a unique transition,
their amnesty laws often have unique characteristics either in the
scope or how they were implemented.
Database hosted on