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Collective punishment is the punishment of a group of people as a result of the behavior of one or more other individuals or groups. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. In times of war and armed conflict, collective punishment has resulted in atrocities, and is a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. Historically, occupying powers have used collective punishment to retaliate against and deter attacks on their forces by resistance movements (e.g. destroying whole towns and villages where such attacks have occurred).


18th century

The Intolerable Acts were seen as a collective punishment of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party.

19th century

The principle of collective punishment was laid out by Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in his Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864, which laid out the rules for his "March to the sea" in the American Civil War:

V. To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, etc..., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.[1]

20th century

The British in the Boer Wars and the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War and World War I justified such actions as being in accord with the laws of war then in force.[2] In the 1941, German Nazi troops killed on 19 October in three villages near Kragujevac 434 man as punishment to previously taken actions of Serbian resistance movement. In the following days, 20th in Kraljevo and 21 October in Kragujevac, Sumarice, Nazis killed more than 13000 people, from which 300 pupils from Kragujevac First High school. During World War II, in 1942, the Germans destroyed the village of Lidice, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) killing 340 inhabitants as collective punishment or reprisal for that year's assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by commandos nearby the village (the village of Ležáky was also destroyed in retribution). In the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane 642 of its inhabitants — men, women, and children — were slaughtered by the German Waffen-SS in 1944.[3] In the Dutch village of Putten[4] and the Italian villages of Sant'Anna di Stazzema[5] and Marzabotto,[6] as well as in the Soviet village of Kortelisy[7] (in what is now Ukraine), large scale reprisal killings were carried out by the Germans.

The Expulsion of Germans after World War II by, among others, Czechs and Poles, has been sometimes justified as collective punishment. The goal was to punish the Germans;,[8][9][10][11] the Allies declared them collectively guilty of German war crimes.[12][13][14][15] In the US and UK the ideas of German collective guilt and collective punishment originated not with the US and British people, but on higher policy levels.[16] Not until late in the war did the US public assign collective responsibility to the German people.[16] The most notable policy document containing elements of collective guilt and collective punishment is JCS 1067 from early 1945.[16] Collective punishment has also been implicated in the American food policy in occupied Germany, with President Truman responding to complaints from Senators that "that although all Germans might not be guilty for the war, it would be too difficult to try to single out for better treatment those who had nothing to do with the Nazi regime and its crimes". Months earlier amongst many others "U.S. Catholic Bishops had already spoken out against the restrictions on food exports into occupied Germany" warning that "future generations may well charge the victors with guilt of inhumanities which are reminiscent of Nazism and Fascism."[17]

According to the New York Times, the British planned "'collective punishment' for aiding Reds, rewards and more troops" in Malaya in 1951.[18] The British used collective punishment as an official policy to suppress the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in 1952.[19] In 1956, Britain officially used collective punishment in Cyprus in the form of evicting families from their homes and closing shops anywhere British soldiers and police had been murdered, to obtain information about the identity(ies) of the attackers[20] Today, it is considered by most nations contradictory to the modern concept of due process, where each individual receives separate treatment based on his or her role in the crime in question. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically forbids collective punishment.

Joseph Stalin's mass deportations of many nations of the USSR to remote regions (including the Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and many others) is an example of officially-orchestrated collective punishment.

The partial removal of potentially trouble-making ethnic groups was a technique used consistently by Stalin during his career: Poles (1939–1941 and 1944–1945), Romanians (1941 and 1944–1953) Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians (1941 and 1945–1949), Volga Germans (1941), Chechens, Ingushs (1944). Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union.[2] It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics.[21] By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.[22]

The deportations started with Poles from Belarus, Ukraine and European Russia (see Poles in the former Soviet Union) 1932-1936. Koreans in the Russian Far East were deported in 1937 (see Deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union). After the Soviet invasion of Poland following the corresponding German invasion that marked the start of World War II in 1939, the Soviet Union annexed eastern parts (so-called "Kresy") of the Second Polish Republic. During 1939-1941 1.45 million people inhabiting the region were deported by the Soviet regime, of whom 63.1% were Poles, and 7.4% were Jews.[23] The same followed in the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.[24] More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been deported from the Baltic in 1940-1953. 10% of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps.[25][26] (see June deportation, Operation Priboi, Soviet deportations from Estonia) Volga Germans[27] and seven (overwhelmingly Turkic or non-Slavic) nationalities of the Crimea and the northern Caucasus were deported: the Crimean Tatars,[28] Kalmyks, Chechens,[29] Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, and Meskhetian Turks. All Crimean Tatars were deported en masse, in a form of collective punishment.

Pogroms may be considered examples of unofficial collective punishment which resemble rioting. About 14 million East Germans were moved out of what was Germany; 3 million of them died.

Black January was a massacre of civilians committed by the Red Army in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990. The Human Rights Watch report entitled "Black January in Azerbaijan" states: "Indeed, the violence used by the Soviet Army on the night of January 19–20 was so out of proportion to the resistance offered by Azerbaijanis as to constitute an exercise in collective punishment."[30]

21st century

In the Israeli/Palestinian conflict


Israel's current Blockade of Gaza and policy destroying the homes of the families of militants, especially suicide bombers, has been criticized as collective punishment aimed at the Palestinians, though Israel disputes this, saying that the Gaza blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from procuring weapons, and demolishing the homes of militants is to deter potential militants from carrying out attacks on Israeli troops or civilians.[31][unreliable source?]


On 20 May 2008, the Pakistan Army conducted collective punishment against a village called Spinkai, located in the frontier province of Pakistan. The operation was called 'zalzala' which is Arabic for earthquake. At first, the Pakistan Army swept through with helicopter gunships, artillery and tanks that crunched across a parched riverbed. After four days of heavy fighting, 25 militants and six soldiers died. The rest of the militants retreated up the valley. After the capture of the village the army discovered bomb factories, detonation-ready suicide jackets and schools for teenage suicide bombers.[32]

The Pakistan Army immediately decided to punish the village for harboring the Taliban and allowing the militants to operate in and from the village to conduct further terror attacks in Pakistan. Bulldozers and explosives experts turned Spinkai's bazaar into a mile-long pile of rubble.[33] Petrol stations, shops, and even parts of the hospital were leveled or blown up. The villagers were forbidden from returning to their homes.

Pakistani commanders, who were speaking to the media, insisted they had been merciful in their application of "collective punishment" - a practice invented by the British who demarcated the tribal areas over a century ago.[citation needed]

See also


  1. Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman, 2nd ed., D. Appleton & Co., 1913 (1889), Chapter XXI. Reprinted by the Library of America, 1990, ISBN 0-940450-65-8.
  2. "The laws of war as to conquered territory" by William Miller Collier, New York Times, November 29, 1914, p SM6
  3. Oradour-sur-Glane - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  4. *Official Website
  5. The New York Times > International > Europe > Tiny Town Lost in Tides of History
  6. Massacres and Atrocities of WWII in the Axis Countries
  7. World War II in Ukraine: Kortelisy (Ukraine), Lidice (Czechoslovakia) & Oradour-sur-Glane (France): Razed Villages.
  8. Alfred M. De Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, page 2
  9. Ulf Brunnbauer, Michael G. Esch, Holm Sundhaussen, Definitionsmacht, Utopie, Vergeltung, p.91
  10. The Expulsion of 'German' Communities from Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, Steffen Prauser and Arfon Rees, European University Institute, Florence. HEC No. 2004/1. p.6
  11. Zybura, p. 202
  12. The Expulsion of 'German' Communities from Eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War, Steffen Prauser and Arfon Rees, European University Institute, Florence. HEC No. 2004/1. p.5
  13. Ulf Brunnbauer, Michael G. Esch, Holm Sundhaussen, Definitionsmacht, Utopie, Vergeltung, p.92
  14. Karl Cordell, Andrzej Antoszewski, Poland and the European Union, 2000, p.166, ISBN 0415238854, 9780415238854 ´ (Situation in Poland) "Almost all Germans were held personally responsible for the policies of the Nazi party"
  15. Arie Marcelo Kacowicz, Pawel Lutomski, Population resettlement in international conflicts: a comparative study, Lexington Books, 2007, pp.101,102, ISBN 073911607
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Francis R. Nicosia,Jonathan Huener "Business and industry in Nazi Germany", p.130,131
  17. Steven Bela Vardy and T. Hunt Tooley, eds. "Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe" ISBN 0-88033-995-0. Chapter by Richard Dominic Wiggers, "The United States and the Refusal to Feed German Civilians after World War II" p.453,454
  18. "British to step up Malaya campaign; 1951 plans include 'collective punishment' for aiding Reds, rewards and more troops" New York Times, Dec. 17, 1950, p 12
  19. "Labor's censure over Kenya fails" New York Times, Dec 17, 1952, p16
  20. Britain punishes Cypriote balking in informer role" New York Times,Mar. 17, 1956, p1
  21. The Stalin Era
  22. Soviet Transit, Camp, and Deportation Death Rates
  23. Poland's Holocaust, Tadeusz Piotrowski, 1998 ISBN 0-7864-0371-3, P.14
  24. Soviet Mass Deportations from Latvia
  25. The Baltic States
  26. Communism and Crimes against Humanity in the Baltic states
  27. Deportation
  28. Deportation of Crimean Tatars by Stalin
  29. Remembering Stalin's deportations
  30. [1]
  32. Declan Walsh (May 20, 2008). "Demolished by the Pakistan army: the frontier village punished for harbouring the Taliban". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-06-30.
  33. "In pictures: Pakistan's most feared militant". BBC News. 2008-05-27. Retrieved 2008-06-30.

External links

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