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Extrajudicial killing

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Extrajudicial killing

An extrajudicial killing is the killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process. Extrajudicial punishments are mostly seen by humanity to be unethical, since they bypass the due process of the legal jurisdiction in which they occur. Extrajudicial killings often target leading political, trade union, dissident, religious, and social figures and may be carried out by the state government or other state authorities like the armed forces or police.

Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in Iraq,[1][2][3][4][5] Central America,[6][7] Colombia, Afghanistan, Pakistan,[8] Bangladesh,[9][10][11] several nations or regions in Africa,[12][13][14] Jamaica,[15][16][17] Kosovo,[18] parts of South America,[19][20][21] allegedly Russia,[22] Uzbekistan, parts of Thailand,[23] Turkey,[24][25][26][27] and in the Philippines.[28][29][30][31][32][33][34] One of the most recent issues regarding extrajudicial killing has been the debate about the legal and moral status of targeted killing by unmanned aerial vehicles by the United States.


Argentina's dictatorial government during the 1976-83 period used extrajudicial killings systematically as way of crushing the opposition in the so-called 'Dirty War'.[35]



On May 5 during the 2013 Operation at Motijheel Shapla Chattar the government ordered the shooting of all Muslim activists who marched to the capital demanding changes in the constitution.



The Chilean Junta of 1973 to 1989 also committed such killings; see Operation Condor for examples.

El Salvador

During the Salvadoran civil war, death squads achieved notoriety when far-right vigilantes assassinated Archbishop Óscar Romero for his social activism in March 1980. In December 1980, three American nuns, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Maura Clarke, and a lay worker, Jean Donovan, were raped and murdered by a military unit later found to have been acting on specific orders. Death squads were instrumental in killing hundreds of peasants and activists, including such notable priests as Rutilio Grande. Because the death squads involved were found to have been soldiers of the Salvadoran military, which was receiving U.S. funding and training from American advisors during the Carter administration, these events prompted outrage in the U.S. and led to a temporary cutoff in military aid from the Reagan administration, although death squad activity stretched well into the Reagan years (1981–1989) as well.


Honduras also had death squads active through the 1980s, the most notorious of which was Battalion 316. Hundreds of people, including teachers, politicians and union bosses, were assassinated by government-backed forces. Battalion 316 received substantial support and training from the United States Central Intelligence Agency.[40]


Notable cases of extrajudicial killings include the 1991 Lokhandwala Complex shootout, the Ishrat Jahan case (2004), and the Ranbir Singh case (2009).


In 1953 a regime was installed through the efforts of the American CIA and the British MI6 in which the Shah (hereditary monarch) Mohammad Reza Pahlavi used SAVAK death squads (also trained by the CIA) to imprison, torture and/or kill hundreds of dissidents. After the 1979 revolution death squads were used to an even greater extent by the new Islamic government. In 1983, the CIA gave the Supreme Leader of Iran—Ayatollah Khomeini—information on KGB agents in Iran. This information was probably used. The Iranian government later used death squads occasionally throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s; however by the 2000s it seems to have almost entirely, if not completely, ceased using them. This partial relaxation of Khomeini's harsh policies and subtle Westernization of the country can be seen paralleling similar events in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, and Northern Iraq beginning in the late 1990s.


Iraq was formed by the partition and domination of various tribal lands by the British in the early 20th century. Britain granted independence to Iraq in 1932, on the urging of King Faisal, though the British retained military bases and transit rights for their forces. King Ghazi of Iraq ruled as a figurehead after King Faisal's death in 1933, while undermined by attempted military coups, until his death in 1939. The United Kingdom invaded Iraq in 1941 (see Anglo-Iraqi War), for fear that the government of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani might cut oil supplies to Western nations, and because of his links to the Axis powers. A military occupation followed the restoration of the Hashemite monarchy, and the occupation ended on October 26, 1947. Iraq was left with a national government led from Baghdad made up of Sunni ethnicity in key positions of power, ruling over an ad-hoc nation splintered by tribal affiliations. This leadership used death squads and committed massacres in Iraq throughout the 20th century, culminating in the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.[41]

The country has since become increasingly partitioned following the Iraq War into three zones: a Kurdish ethnic zone to the north, a Sunni center and the Shia ethnic zone to the south. The secular Arab socialist Baathist leadership were replaced with a provisional and later constitutional government that included leadership roles for the Shia and Kurdish peoples of the nation. This paralleled the development of ethnic militias by the Shia, Sunni, and the Kurdish (Peshmerga).

There were death squads formed by members of every ethnicity.[42] In the national capital of Baghdad some members of the now-Shia police department and army (and militia members posing as members of police or armed forces) formed unofficial, unsanctioned, but long-tolerated death squads.[43] They possibly had links to the Interior Ministry and were popularly known as the 'black crows'. These groups operated night or day. They usually arrested people, then either tortured[44] or killed [45] them.

The victims of these attacks were predominantly young males who had probably been suspected of being members of the Sunni insurgency. Agitators such as Abdul Razaq al-Na'as, Dr. Abdullateef al-Mayah, and Dr. Wissam Al-Hashimi have also been killed. These killings are not limited to men; women and children have also been arrested and/or killed.[46] Some of these killings have also been part of simple robberies or other criminal activities.

A feature in a May 2005 issue of the magazine of the New York Times claimed that the U.S. military had modelled the "Wolf Brigade", the Iraqi interior ministry police commandos, on the death squads used in the 1980s to crush the left-wing insurgency in El Salvador.[47]

Western news organizations such as Time and People disassembled this by focusing on aspects such as probable militia membership, religious ethnicity, as well as uniforms worn by these squads rather than stating the United States-backed Iraqi government had death squads active in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.[48]



The Philippines has had its share of extrajudicial atrocities and related political violence as well, the most recent being the Maguindanao massacre in Mindanao (November 2009). The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called the massacre the single deadliest event for journalists in history.[49] Even prior to this, the CPJ had labeled the Philippines the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Iraq.[49]

Soviet Union and Russia

In Soviet Russia since 1918 Cheka was authorized to execute "counterevolutionaries" without trial. Hostages were also executed by Cheka during the Red Terror in 1918-20.

The Georgi Markov in 1978 in London.

In Russian Federation a number of journalist murders were attributed to public administration figures, usually where the publications would reveal their involvement in large corruption scandals.

The Alexander Litvinenko murder was linked to Russian special forces.


Reportedly thousands of extrajudicial killings occurred during the 2003 anti-drug effort of Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Rumors still persist that there is collusion between the government, rogue military officers, the radical right wing, and anti-drug death squads.[50][51][52][53][54][55][56]

Both Muslim[57] and Buddhist[58] sectarian death squads still operate in the south of the country.


In 1990 Amnesty International published its first report on extrajudicial executions in Turkey.[25] In the following years the problem became more serious. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey determined the following figures on extrajudicial executions in Turkey for the years 1991 to 2001:[59]
1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
98 283 189 129 96 129 98 80 63 56 37

In 2001 the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Asma Jahangir, presented a report on a visit to Turkey.[60] The report presented details of killings of prisoners (26 September 1999, 10 prisoners killed in a prison in Ankara; 19 December 2000, an operation in 20 prisons launched throughout Turkey resulted in the death of 30 inmates and two gendarmes).

For the years 2000-2008 the Human Rights Association (HRA) gives the following figures on doubtful deaths/deaths in

custody/extra judicial execution/torture by paid village guards[61]
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
173 55 40 44 47 89 130 66 65

In 2008 the human rights organization Mazlum Der counted 25 extrajudicial killings in Turkey.[62]

United Kingdom

During the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force murdered the mayors of Limerick and Cork cities. In Limerick, the replacement mayor was also murdered, while in Cork, the new mayor died after a 74-day hunger strike.

Northern Ireland

In Brian Nelson, an Ulster Defence Association member and British Army agent convicted of sectarian murders.[65][66][67]

United States

Recently, concerns about targeted and sanctioned killings of non-Americans and American citizens in overseas "counter-terrorism" activities have been raised by lawyers and private citizens. On September 30, 2011 a drone strike in Yemen killed American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.[68] Both individuals resided in Yemen at the time of their deaths. The executive order approving Al-Awlaki's death was issued by Barack Obama in 2010 and challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights in that year. The U.S. president issued an order, approved by the National Security Council, that Al-Awlaki's normal legal rights as a civilian should be suspended and his death should be imposed, as he was a threat to the United States. The reasons provided to the public for approval of the order were Al-Awlaki's links to the 2009 Fort Hood Massacre and the 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot, the attempted destruction of a Detroit-bound passenger-plane.[69] The following month, al-Awlaki's son was killed by mistake by another US drone strike.[70]

Some define extrajudicial killings more broadly than U.S. government sanctioned actions. For example, some Americans feel that the number of high-profile cases of killings, especially of black and Latino males, by law enforcement and other armed individuals in the U.S. are extrajudicial and reflect an epidemic problem.[71]


Nguyễn Văn Lém (referred to as Captain Bay Lop) (died 1 February 1968 in Saigon) was a member of the Viet Cong who was summarily shot in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The photograph of his death would become one of many anti-Vietnam War icons in the Western World.

Human rights groups

Many Amnesty International along with the United Nations are campaigning against extrajudicial punishment.[6][72][73][74][75]

Popular culture

  • All three films directed by Coleman Francis end with extrajudicial killings of main characters.

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ Torture and Extrajudicial Killings in Iraq
  2. ^ ei: Extrajudicial Killings at the Wayback Machine (archived February 26, 2011)
  3. ^ USA: An Extrajudicial Execution by the CIA? | Amnesty International
  4. ^ Proof of US orchestration of Death Squads Killings in Iraq
  5. ^ Soccer Dad: Extra-judicial killings, hamas style
  6. ^ a b El Salvador: The spectre of death squads | Amnesty International
  7. ^ El Salvador: War, Peace, and Human Rights, 1980–1994
  8. ^
  9. ^ Bangladesh: Release Journalist and Rights Activist | All American Patriots
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Louis-Jodel Chamblain – JAMAICAOBSERVER.COM at the Wayback Machine (archived November 21, 2008)
  16. ^
  17. ^ Note: first page of this article is missing from The Washington Post website, but can be found here
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Brazil: Irene Khan urges government collaboration to end violence | Amnesty International
  22. ^
  23. ^ THAILAND: Extrajudicial killing, impunity
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b The report Turkey: Extra-judicial Executions (AI Index: EUR 44/45/90) was accessed on 10 September 2009
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ Arroyo fails to take steps to end extrajudicial killings
  29. ^
  30. ^ STOP Extra-Judicial Killings in the Philippines
  31. ^ Scared Silent: Impunity for Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines
  32. ^
  33. ^ U.N. Rapporteur: Philippines Military Implicated in Extra-Judicial Murders and Political Killings (Radio Pinoy USA) at the Wayback Machine (archived June 4, 2009)
  34. ^ PC(USA) News: ‘Graft and corruption’ at the Wayback Machine (archived August 10, 2009)
  35. ^ Veinticinco años del informe de la Conadep (Spanish)
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ When a wave of torture and murder staggered a small U.S. ally, truth was a casualty. – Prisons, California, Ronald Wilson Reagan –
  41. ^ Daily Kos: History of Iraq: 1933 – 1939
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^ a b
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ Thailand. 2500 extrajudicial drug-war killings of innocent people. at the Wayback Machine (archived December 6, 2009)
  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^ Source: Report for 2001, published on 10 March 2003, Ankara, ISBN 975-7217-38-7, page 49 (Turkish)
  60. ^ The full report as pdf-file; accessed on 10 September 2009
  61. ^ The comparative balance sheet of the HRA is available in English; accessed on 10 September 2009
  62. ^ The full report in Turkish as word-file; accessed on 10 September 2009
  63. ^ Hsw
  64. ^ Opinion: A grim lesson from Ulster
  65. ^ CAIN: Issues: Violence – 'Violence in Northern Ireland, 1969 – June 1989'
  66. ^
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^
  70. ^
  71. ^ Goodman, Amy. "Trayvon Martin’s Unpunished Shooting Death Among 100+ Extrajudicial Killings of Unarmed Blacks" Democracy Now, interview with Kali Akuno and Michelle Alexander. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
  72. ^ Project on Extrajudicial Executions at the Wayback Machine (archived May 31, 2013)
  73. ^ UN independent expert on extrajudicial killings urges action on reported incidents
  74. ^ Dickey: Iraq, Salvador and Death-Squad Democracy – Newsweek The War in Iraq – at the Wayback Machine (archived November 1, 2005)
  75. ^ Special Forces May Train Assassins, Kidnappers in Iraq – Newsweek The War in Iraq – at the Wayback Machine (archived August 9, 2010)
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