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Extrajudicial punishment is punishment by the state or some other official authority without the permission of a court or legal authority. The existence of extrajudicial punishment is considered proof that some governments will break their own legal code if deemed necessary.


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.

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 agents outside the government. Criminal organizations, such as La Cosa Nostra, have reportedly been employed for such a purpose.

Another possibility is for uniformed security forces to punish a victim, but under circumstances that make it appear as self-defense or suicide. The former can be accomplished by planting recently-fired weapons near the body, the latter by 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".

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.

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.

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. Other Soviet Bloc secret police organizations like the East German Stasi, Romanian Securitate and Polish ZOMO have also used it from time to time.

Most Latin American dictatorships have regularly instituted extrajudicial killings of their enemies; for one of the better-known examples, see Operation Condor. [1]

Some[citation needed] 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.[2]

The deaths of the leaders of the leftist urban guerilla group, the Red Army Faction, Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe in West Germany are regarded as extrajudicial killings by some of those in the German radical left movements, a theory partly based on the testimony of Irmgard Möller.

During the apartheid years South Africa's security forces were also accused of using extrajudicial means to deal with their political opponents.[citation needed] 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.


In the People's Republic of China a system of administrative detentions called Re-education through labor (láodòng jiàoyǎng 劳动教养, abbreviated láojiào 劳教) is used to detain persons for minor crimes such as petty theft, prostitution, and trafficking illegal drugs, as well as crimes against the state such as leading unregistered Chinese house churches, for periods of up to four years. In 2001, at least 5,000 Falun Gong adherents were thought to be detained in re-education camps. Re-education through labor sentences are given by police, rather than through the judicial system.

For many years, the Jamaican Constabulary Force has been noted for its extrajudicial killings[3][4]. With 140 police killings in a population of 3 million, "Jamaica’s police force [is] among the deadliest in the world"[5].

Human rights groups

Many human rights organisations like Amnesty International are campaigning against extrajudicial punishment.[6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

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

Regional coverage

Selective coverage of state repression

Country coverage of state repression

See also

External links

Monitoring organizations


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