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 are only those carried out by the state government or other state authorities like the armed forces or police, as extra-legal fulfillment of their prescribed role. This does not include cases where aforementioned authorities act under motives that serve their own interests and not the State's, such as to eliminate their complicity in crime or commissioning by an outside party.[1]

Section 3(a) of the United States Torture Victim Protection Act contains a definition of extrajudicial killing:

a deliberate killing not authorized by a previous judgement pronounced by a regular constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. Such term, however, does not include any such killing that, under international law, is lawfully carried out under the authority of a foreign nation.[2][lower-alpha 1]

Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in Syria,[3][4] Iraq,[5][6][7][8][9] Egypt,[10][11] Central America,[12][13] Mexico,[14] Colombia,[15] Brazil,[16][17][18][19][20] Indonesia,[21] Afghanistan,[22] Pakistan,[23] Bangladesh,[24][25][26] several nations or regions in Africa,[27][28][29][30][31] Democratic Republic of the Congo,[32] Burundi,[33][34] Jamaica,[35][36][37] Kosovo,[38] parts of South America,[39][40][41] allegedly Russia,[42] Uzbekistan, parts of Thailand,[43] Turkey,[44][45][46][47][48] in the Philippines,[49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56] Tajikistan,[57][58] Papua New Guinea,[32][59][60] and by Israeli forces.[61][62][63] 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'.[64]


Bangladeshi special security force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has long been known for extrajudicial killing.[65] In a leaked Wikileaks cable it was found that RAB was trained by UK government.[66] Few RAB officials were involved in killing of 7 people in Narayanganj on April 27, 2014.[67][68]

Beside this lots of alleged criminals were killed by Bangladesh police by the name of cross fire.[69]


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, four Americans — three nuns and a lay worker — 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.[70]


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.[71]

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.[72] 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.[73] 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[74] or killed [75] 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.[76] 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.[77]

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.[78]

Jammu and Kashmir


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.[79] Even prior to this, the CPJ had labeled the Philippines the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Iraq.[79]

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 successors of Cheka also had the authority for extrajudicial executions. In 1937-38 hundreds of thousands where executed extrajudicially during the Great Purge under the lists approved by NKVD troikas. In some cases the Soviet special services did not arrest and then execute their victims but just secretly killed them without any arrest. For example, Solomon Mikhoels was murdered in 1948 and his body was run over to create the impression of a traffic accident. The Soviet special services also conducted extrajudicial killings abroad, most notably of Leon Trotskiy in 1940 in Mexico, Stepan Bandera in 1969 in Germany, 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.

It has been regarded that the Alexander Litvinenko murder was linked to Russian special forces.

State of Palestine

In a report, Amnesty International documented incidents that "appear to have been extrajudicial executions" against Palestinian civilians.[62] Those incidents occurred after Palestinians reportedly attempted to attack Israelis, but even though the attackers did pose a serious threat due to soldiers' armor, they were shot without ensuring that the threat was real and without attempt to arrest suspects before resorting to the use of lethal force.[62]


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.[80][81][82][83][84][85][86]

Both Muslim[87] and Buddhist[88] sectarian death squads still operate in the south of the country.


In 1990 Amnesty International published its first report on extrajudicial executions in Turkey.[46] 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:[89]


In 2001 the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Asma Jahangir, presented a report on a visit to Turkey.[90] 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[91]

173 55 40 44 47 89 130 66 65

In 2008 the human rights organization Mazlum Der counted 25 extrajudicial killings in Turkey.[92]

United Kingdom

During the Irish war of independence in 1916–21, the British forces organised several secret assassination squads. In 1920 alone the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force murdered the mayors of Limerick and Cork cities. In Limerick, the replacement mayor was also murdered, while the new mayor of Cork died in Brixton, after a 74-day hunger strike.[93]

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, various paramilitary groups and members of the British armed forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary killed without lawful excuse during The Troubles.[94][95] During the 30 years of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, both nationalist and loyalist paramilitary forces organised assassination squads. Notable cases include Brian Nelson, an Ulster Defence Association member and British Army agent convicted of sectarian murders.[96][97][98]

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.[99] 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.[100] The following month, al-Awlaki's son was killed by mistake by another US drone strike.[101]


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 human rights organizations like Amnesty International along with the United Nations are campaigning against extrajudicial punishment.[12][102][103][104][105]

Popular culture

See also


  1. The legal exclusion in the sentence that starts "Such term, however ..." covers the killing of enemy combatants and others who are not protected under international law from extrajudicial killing.
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Further reading

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