Amnesty is an ancient-Greek originated word (amnestia) which means an act of justice by which the supreme power in a state restores those who may have been guilty of any offence against it to the position of innocent persons. Amnesty law includes more than pardon, in as much as it removes all legal remembrance of the offence. This paper is a study on the advantages and disadvantages of amnesty laws. It will be argued that if amnesty laws are arranged well according to the conditions of the society, they are necessary and beneficial to solve the problem of crime. The fear of innocent people due to the existence of amnesty law is a very natural reaction, however, when the benefits of amnesty law is taken into consideration, it can be said that amnesty is a very useful law to help rehabilitated offenders reintegrate to society and the best way of utilizing this law is keeping balance well between amnesty and punishment so that any one who does not deserve it can not be released. Rehabilitation of prisoners which means the restoration to good health or useful life, as through therapy and education constitutes an important part of amnesty programs. In order to arrive at these points, first the definition of amnesty will be made and its historical development will be explained. Secondly, Amnesty International’s history, its activities and aims will be explained. Thirdly, it will be moved on to the discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of amnesty laws by giving examples from Turkish history and theoretical discussions about amnesty.
The definition of amnesty and its historical development
Amnesty is one of the still unsolved judical and moral issues of our history. The focus of this law is either to make free all offenders of conscience or to reduce their sentences. Today, people can not come to an agreement on the implementation of this law. Whenever it is executed, objections and protests arise from society. That is because people think that they could be the next victim due to their own delibrated-decisions. Amnesty laws entered into juridical agenda after the development of criminal theory. Especially in the early ages in criminal laws, the dominant principle was the “redress of wrongs” and “eye for an eye tooth for a tooth”. This understanding can be found in primitive ethics example such as “Babylon and Sumerian Codes” .As Harry Allen points out “Here crime was entangled with sin, and punishment in the form of wergild (payment to the victim) or friedensgeld (payment to the state)” (Allen & Simonsen, 6). In the sixth century A.D., Emperor Justinian of Rome wrote his own code of laws which was inspiring for his period of time. In the early ages, there was no such thing as amnesty but the prisoners had chance to be released during wars in order to supply the army. The Middle Ages were a period of disorder and the system of justice was mostly based on divine Church laws. During this period, sexuality was seen as a crime and harsh punishments were given. Criminals were generally seen as people whose souls are seduced by the Satan and amnesty laws did not become come to agenda. With the emergence of secular law after Reformation period, crime started to be analyzed as a social issue and in accordance with utilitarianism (the ethical theory proposed by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill that all action should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people) crime and penalty were arranged to exalt public utility. However, only after the Second World War humans understood the importance of human rights, the preciousness of human life and the problems in penal system.
Amnesty International’s history, its activities and aims
Today in the whole world amnesty programs are strongly advocated and supported by Amnesty International, an international, non-governmental organization with the stated purpose of promoting all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards. In other words, Amnesty International is a “worldwide voluntary activist movement working for human rights” (Amnesty International Report 2004, 311). Amnesty International (AI) tries to free all prisoners of conscience and thought; to ensure fair trials for political prisoners; to abolish the death penalty, torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners, to end all political killings and forced disappearances; and to oppose all human rights abuses, whether by governments or by other groups. AI makes many activities to defend their views such as conferences, demonstrations, publications, campaigns and tries to expand its opposition by cooperating with other non-governmental organizations, organize human rights education and awareness-raising programs (Campaigns).
Amnesty International’s Turkey department for instance organizes many campaigns and activities in the country in order to protest actions that are against human rights and encourages human rights development programs. Campaign against individual armement is a good example of the success of Amnesty International in Turkey since the issue has become very important and popular in recent years. AI is funded only by volunteers and does not accept donnations from governments. AI also strongly advocates amnesty laws and rehabilitation programs in accordance with their human rights struggle. It must also be said that in opposing the death penalty and supporting amnesty laws, Amnesty International in no way seeks to minimize or encourage the crimes. As an organization deeply concerned with the victims of human rights abuses, Amnesty International does not seek to belittle the suffering of the families of murder victims, for whom it has the greatest sympathy. However, the finality and cruelty inherent in the death penalty and in the penal code is the biggest enemy of AI. It must be clearly understood that the “ultimate goal is to end human right violations, but so long as they continue AI tries to provide practical help to victims” (Amnesty International Report 2004, 312).
The advantages and disadvantages of amnesty laws
This topic is very important since it directly affects the social life. People who are released by amnesty laws can spoil the social life by committing crimes again. However, from a humanitarian point of view these people if they are rehabilitated should not be kept in prison for long unnecessary years. They should not be deprived of free life if they do not constitute a threat to society. Furthermore, the mistakes in dedicing who is really criminal or innocent can be a big problem of justice. Even one wrong decision is taken, one could utilize this law without deserving it, it would cost a death of an innocent person. Human rights are no doubt the most essential right to have for an individual. To some extent, “Amnesty System” encloses the human rights and the relation can be expressed in this way; being convicted to a life sentence for a person exactly the same as taking his freedom until his death. In such cases, Amnesty Law takes its place by means of protection of human rights even for offenders. In USA prisons, for example, convicteds are evaluated whether they are rehabilitated, in every 10 years (Amnesty International Report, 348). This policy really makes sense by means of saving a person life. Another aspect of this relation is emphasized by Ryley Scott. He claims that some punishments for some crimes completely hinder the possibility of rehabilitation of offenders (Scott, 184). He mainly says that life-long sentences, physical punishments and inevitable influences of being imprisoned makes thoroughly reverse effect on prisoners other than making them rehabilitated. Also he says that there is nothing to defend punishments, because whatever conditions are provided, rehabilitation can not be supplied. In addition to this, “if level of punisments goes up, offenders may become more prone to commit crime and crime emerges more frequently other than suppressing it” (Scott, 196). Briefly it is explained that death penalty is not something beneficial since it just aims to take revenge but not to gain this person.
Labelling theory also offers us a very important perspective in solving the crime problem. It basically claims that when “a person is stigmatized with a deviant label, a self-fulfilling prophecy unfolds as others respond to the offender as deviant” (Braithwaite,18). Labelling theory was first theorized by Frank Tannenbaum in 1938 but became popular only in the 1970’s. He mainly argues that “it is very plausible that a person who is obstricized by the society and labelled as “guilty other” is more likely to commit crime again” (Braithwaite, 17) . That is why after being terminated the sentence or released from prison, people must be supported by governments to find jobs and to get used to the social life. This means that rehabilitation is not necessary only in the prison but also after the prison at least for a short period of time.
The best and maybe the only reasonable conservative argument against amnesty law is that it rewards people who have broken the law. In accordance with this view, some people claim that Amnesty International shows disrespect for victims of violent crime and their relatives as well as encouraging the crime. These people criticize Amnesty International for supporting impunity which means exemption from punishment, penalty, or harm. The offenders who make use of Amnesty Law are potential ones to commit crime again, actually in some cases they really attempt to do. From the public’s point of view, living with such offenders is undoubtedly a crucial problem. The main argument of this issue can be expressed in this way: when the offenders utilize from this law, they would get encouraged to commit more crime, because of the non-dissuasive effect of sentences, that is, laws become so ineffective that any released-offenders may attempt to commit crime again. In other words, the deterrence of laws will decrease in the case of amnesty laws and criminals can act more comfortably because they would know that an amnesty law will save them from prison. As a consequence of this opposing argument, Christopher Harding explains the content of punishments once more. In order to rehabilitate an offender, in other words to make him regret for what he did, punishments should be strict. As Harding points out in the book “Punishment”, “as a means of responding to undesired and proscribed behaviour, punishment occupies a significant and problematical position” (Harding, 13). J.D. Mabbott also thinks that “punishing a man and punishing him justly” can only be provided by deterring other potential criminals and that is why laws should be harsh (Mabbott, pg 126).
Impunity on the other hand, facilitates the possiblity of committing crimes - from common robberies to rape, torture, and murders - without having to face, much less suffer, any punishment. One of the reasons some crimes may be punished by very long sentences lies in the aim of keeping criminals who cannot be rehabilitated away from society. In E.Allen’s book, it is stated that “Most extremely long sentences date from incidents that so shocked the public that the legislature quickly established long sentences for those offenses to protect society in a case of a recurrence” (Allen & Simonsen, 124). Another important discussion on Amnesty Law is about its presence. Altough the main idea behind it is to help an offender to reintegrate into the society, most of time it does not or it cannot. For example researches conducted in Turkey show that after the law is implemented and offenders are released by the amnestly law known as “Rahşan Affı”, prisons again become full of offenders. The prisons having capacity of people 70.000 starts to exceed limit and reach to 71.000. These numbers arouse a new notion which questions whether Amnesty Law is beneficial or not. Although amnesty law seems to be a rehabilitation process and helping someone reintegrate to society, in fact it has serious negative sides, too. As Barbara Hudson points out “Reductionism is unrealictic in the sense that it simply does not work. It produces at best a temproray dip in the prison numbers” (Hudson, 150). This approach is very consistent with many conutries. For instance, in the year 2000 (that is when General Amnesty was implemented in Turkey) a huge gap was created in prisons due to the effect of releasements. However since then, the number of offenders has increased by a rate of 4.312 people per year in Turkey (“Af ve Cezaevi”).
Although as it was shown that there can be many negative effects of amnesty laws, amnesty laws should be supported to be implemented by making proper adjustments to provide a more peaceful life. It is a fact that offenders who are not rehabilitated should not be released from prison for preserving social peace. Karl Menninger also thinks that “we should never punish persons who break the law and that we ought instead to do something much more like what we do when we treat someone who has a disease” (Wasserstrom, pg 156). Menninger thinks that the punishment should be constructive not offensive. “And our move must be a constructive one, an intelligent one, a purposeful one – not a primitive, retaliatory, offensive move” (Menninger, pg 155). Thus, people who are rehabilitated and shown good behaviors can be released by amnesty laws. This would not spoil the social harmony and will have positive effects like more production and unifying families. However, socioeconomic conditions are also very crucial in declaring amnesty law. If people who are released would not have chance to find a job and to be ostracized by the society, they will be more likely to commit crimes again. That is why as “labelling theory” stated, the society must be taught about embracing ex-criminals. The mentality behind punishment should not be to take revenge but rather to gain this person in the name of society. The last anti-terror law implemented in Turkey can be a good example for this. Although these people revolted against the state and engaged in many criminal activities, the state with the support and pressure of European Union declared an amnesty law and released many prisoners after rehabilitation process. It is generally expressed that mostly terrorism is fed by the socioeconomic problems and people who do not have money and jobs, join to terrorist organizations. If these released people after rehabilitation will integrate into the society and will not economic problems, this will be beneficial for the society since these people will talk about the negative effects of terrorist organizations, they will probably prevent other people engaging in these activities and families will be unified after long years. The state will be applauded by families and its legitimacy will increase because of this humanist act.
Finally, according to the researches, rehabilitation constitutes the major theme of this topic. Main arguments about offenders and amnesty can be divided into two parts. Some people claim that offenders who have imprisoned enough -meaning purified- should be found out and released. On the other hand, the others argue that decisions taken should not be altered, that is an offender should be imprisoned until his releasement date without making any changes on the date. It would be so nice to write that Amnesty law reaches its goal and makes our world more clear, however, as frequently stated above unfortunately there are lots of abuses in using even Amnesty law. Therefore, the balance should be kept well both to save prisoners’ lives and to protect citizens.
BIBLIOGRAPHY ( REFERENCES )
Braithwaite, John, “Crime, shame and reintegration”, Cambridge University Press, (1989)
Hudson, Barbara A., “Penal Policy and Social Justice”, London: Macmillan Press Ltd., (1993)
Allen, Harry E. & Simonsen, Clifford E., “Corrections in America: An Introduction”, New York: Collier Macmillan Publishers, (1981)
“Amnesty International Report 2004”, London: Amnesty International Publications, (2004)
Harding, Christopher, Punishment Rhetoric, Rule, Practice. New York:Edmundsbury Press Scott, Ryley George, The History of Crime . Diane Press
“Afla boşalan cezaevleri yeniden doldu” 30 Oct. 2004 NTV-MSNBC
Amnesty International website
Amnesty International Türkiye
J.D. Mabbott, “Punishment”
Richard Wasserstrom, “Punishment v. Rehabilitation”
Karl Menninger, “Therapy, Not Punishment”