Extrajudicial punishment

Extrajudicial punishment

Extrajudicial punishment is punishment by the state or some other official authority without the permission of a court or legal authority. Agents of a state apparatus often carry out this type of punishment if they come to the conclusion that a person is an imminent threat to the overall security of its political system. The existence of extrajudicial punishment is considered proof that some governments will break their own legal code if deemed necessary.

Improper use of force by non-state actors is not usually called extrajudicial punishment, such actions are more properly called assassination, guerrilla warfare, murder (in the case of attacks on unarmed civilians) or vigilantism instead.


Although the legal use of capital punishment is generally decreasing around the world, individuals or groups deemed threatening—or even simply "undesirable"—to a government may nevertheless be targeted for punishment by a regime or its representatives. Such actions typically happen quickly, with security forces acting on a covert basis, performed in such a way as to avoid a massive public outcry and/or international criticism that would reflect badly on the state. Sometimes, the killers are not members of the government, but rather sotto voce, or paid agents, authorized in their activity.

Another possibility is for overtly uniformed security forces to punish a victim, but under circumstances that make it appear as self-defense, such as by planting recently-fired weapons near the body, or fabricating evidence suggesting suicide. In such cases, it can be difficult to prove that the perpetrators acted wrongly. Because of the dangers inherent in armed confrontation, even police or soldiers who might strongly prefer to take an enemy alive may still kill to protect themselves or civilians, and potentially cross the line into extrajudicial murder. Only in the most obvious cases, such as the Operation Flavius triple killing or the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes will the authorities admit that "kill or capture" was replaced with "shoot on sight".

Extrajudicial punishment is often a feature of politically repressive regimes, but even self-proclaimed or internationally recognized democracies have been known to use extrajudicial punishment under certain circumstances.

Extrajudicial punishment may be planned and carried out by a particular branch of a state, without informing other branches, or even without having been ordered to commit such acts. Other branches sometimes tacitly approve of the punishment after the fact. They can also genuinely disagree with it, depending on the circumstances, especially when complex intragovernment or internal policy struggles also exist within a state's policymaking apparatus.

In times of war, natural disaster, societal collapse, or in the absence of an established system of criminal justice, there may be increased incidences of extrajudicial punishment. In such circumstances, police or military personnel may be unofficially authorised to punish severely individuals involved in rioting, looting or other violent acts, especially if caught "in flagrante delicto". This position is sometimes itself corrupted, resulting in the death of merely "inconvenient" persons, that is, relative innocents who are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A "disappearance" occurs where someone who is believed to have been targeted for extrajudicial execution does not reappear alive. Their ultimate fate is thereafter unknown or never fully confirmed.

Around the world

The NKVD troika and Special Council of the NKVD are examples from the history of the Soviet Union, where extrajudicial punishment "by administrative means" was part of the state policy. Most Latin American dictatorships have regularly instituted extrajudicial killings of their enemies; for one of the better-known examples, see "Operation Condor." [ [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3821/is_200610/ai_n17195860 Predatory States. Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America/When States Kill. Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror | Journal of Third World Studies | Find Articles at BNET.com ] ] Some consider the killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton to have been an extrajudicial killing ordered by the United States government. Also, the US has been accused of exercising a covert prison system set up by the CIA in several countries, especially Egypt, to evade US jurisdiction. [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/01/AR2005110101644.html CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons - washingtonpost.com ] ] The deaths of the leaders of the leftist urban guerilla group, the Red Army Faction's Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe are regarded as extrajudicial killings by many, a theory partly based on the testimony of Irmgard Möller.

The government of Israel has also carried out extrajudicial killings, which they term "targeted assassinations" against leaders of organisations involved in carrying out attacks against Israel.

During the apartheid years South Africa's security forces were also accused of using extra-judicial means to deal with their political opponents. After his release, Nelson Mandela would refer to these acts as proof of a Third Force. This was denied vehemently by the administration of F.W. de Klerk. Later the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu would find that both military and police agencies such as the Civil Cooperation Bureau and C10 based at Vlakplaas were guilty of gross human rights violations. This led the International Criminal Court to declare apartheid a crime against humanity.


Torture has been a tool of many states throughout history and for many states. Despite worldwide condemnation and the existence of treaty provisions that forbid it, torture is still practiced in two thirds of the world's nations. [ [http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/23/opinion/23HOCH.html?ex=1086315207&ei=1&en=dd8a4b003ac8f504 New York Times] , 23 May 2004. This link needs fixing. See the references [http://hnn.us/articles/5352.html in this link] . This could be one of two articles.]

Torture remains a frequent method of interrogation and repression in totalitarian regimes, terrorist organizations, and organized crime. In authoritarian regimes, torture is often used to extract false confessions from political dissenters, so that they admit to being spies or conspirators, preferably manipulated by a foreign country. Most notably, such a dynamic of forced confessions marked the justice system of the Soviet Union during the reign of Stalin (thoroughly described in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago").

Human rights groups

Many human rights organisations like Amnesty International along with the UN are campaigning against extrajudicial punishment. [ [http://www.extrajudicialexecutions.org/ Project on Extrajudicial Executions ] ] [ [http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=22046&Cr=rights&Cr1=council UN independent expert on extrajudicial killings urges action on reported incidents ] ] [ [http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR290151996?open&of=ENG-SLV Document Information | Amnesty International ] ] [ [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6814001/site/newsweek/ Dickey: Iraq, Salvador and Death-Squad Democracy - Newsweek The War in Iraq - MSNBC.com ] ] [ [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6802629/site/newsweek/ Special Forces May Train Assassins, Kidnappers in Iraq - Newsweek The War in Iraq - MSNBC.com ] ]

In popular culture

The subject of extrajudicial punishment was examined in the stage play and subsequent film "A Few Good Men". In this film, two marines are put on trial for the death of another marine due to their administering of a "Code Red" (a military colloquial speech term for extrajudicial punishment) on him.

Data on human rights violation and state repression

There are currently a wide variety of databases available which attempt to measure, in a rigorous fashion exactly what governments do against those within their territorial jurisdiction. The list below was created and maintained by Prof. Christian Davenport at the University of Maryland. These efforts vary with regard to the particular form of human rights violation they are concerned with, the source employed for the data collection as well as the spatial and temporal domain of interest.

Global coverage

* [http://ciri.binghamton.edu/ "CIRI Human Rights Data Project, 1981-2006"] . by Profs David Cingranelli and David Richards
* [http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=15 "Freedom in the World, 1976-2006"] by Freedom House
* [http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/genocide "Genocide & Politicide, 1955-2005"] by Prof. Barbara Harff and the Political Instability Task Force
* [http://www.politicalterrorscale.org/ "Political Terror Scale, 1976-2006] by Prof. Mark Gibney
* [http://web.ku.edu/keds/data.dir/atrocities.html "Worldwide Atrocities Dataset, 1995-2007] by the Political Instability Task Force/KEDS
* [http://freedom.indiemaps.com/ "World Freedom Atlas, 1990-2006"] - Mapping Program by Prof. Zachary Forest Johnson

Regional coverage

* [http://web.ku.edu/ronfran/data/index.html "European Protest and Coercion, 1980-1995"] by Prof. Ron Francisco

elective coverage of state repression

* [http://web.ku.edu/keds/data.html "The Kansas Event Data System (KEDS)"] by Profs. Deborah “Misty” Gerner and Phill Schrodt
* [http://garnet.acns.fsu.edu/~whmoore/ipi/ipi.html "Intranational Political Interactions Project, 1979-1992"] by Profs. David Davis and Will Moore
* [http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/mar "Minorities at Risk, 1945-2006"] by the Center for International Development and Conflict Management

Country coverage of state repression

* [http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ciidh/data.html "Guatemala, 1960-1996"] by the International Center for Human Rights Research
* [http://shr.aaas.org/kosovo/index.html "Kosovo, 1999"] by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group - Benetech
* [http://www.christiandavenport.com "Rwanda, 1994"] by Profs. Christian Davenport and Allan Stam - The Genodynamics Project
* [http://hrdag.org/resources/SL-TRC_data.html "Sierra Leone, 1991-2000"] by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group - Benetech
* [http://www.hrdag.org/resources/timor-leste_data.shtml "Timor-Leste, 1974-1999"] by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group - Benetech
* [http://www.christiandavenport.com "United States vs. the Black Panthers, 1967-1973"] by Prof. Christian Davenport - "Rashomon and Repression"
* [http://www.christiandavenport.com "United States vs. the Republic of New Africa, 1968-1974] by Prof. Christian Davenport - "Out on the Inside"

See also

* Arbitrary arrest and detention
* Assassination
* Death squad
* Extraordinary rendition
* Lynching
* Outlaw
* Human rights
* Summary execution
* State of emergency
* Martial law
* Posse
* Prison rape
* Selective assassination
* Summary justice
* Terrorism
* Vigilante
* Iraq war
* The Troubles

External links

Monitoring organizations

*Amnesty International
* [http://www.ansarburney.org/ Ansar Burney Trust] (Pakistan and the Middle East)
*Human Rights Watch


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