An extrajudicial killing (also known as extrajudicial execution) is the killing of a person by governmental authorities or individuals without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process. Extrajudicial killings often target leading political, trade union, dissident, religious, and social figures.
Agnès Callamard is the current United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions supported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Human rights groups
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in the Ivory Coast.
Argentina's dictatorial government during the 1976–1983 period used extrajudicial killings systematically as way of crushing the opposition in the so-called "Dirty War" or what is known in Spanish as La Guerra Sucia. During this violent period, it is estimated that the military regime killed between eleven thousand and fifteen thousand people and most of the victims were known or suspected to be opponents of the regime. These included intellectuals, labor leaders, human rights workers, priests, nuns, reporters, politicians, and artists as well as their relatives. Authorities Half of the number of extrajudicial killings were reportedly carried out by the murder squad that operated from a detention center in Buenos Aires called Escuela Mecanica de la Armada. The dirty wars in Argentina sometimes triggered even more violent conflicts since the killings and crackdowns precipitated responses from insurgents.
When General Augusto Pinochet assumed power in 1973, he immediately ordered the purges, torture, and deaths of more than 3,000 supporters of the previous government without trial. During his regime, which lasted from 1973 to 1989, elements of the military and police continued committing extrajudicial killings. These included Manuel Contreras, the former head of Chile's National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), which served as Pinochet's secret police. He was behind numerous assassinations and human rights abuses such as the 1974 abduction and forced disappearance of Socialist Party leader Victor Olea Alegria. Some of the killings were also coordinated with other right-wing dictatorships in the Southern Cone in the so-called Operation Condor. There were reports of United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement, particularly within its activities in Central and South America that promoted anti-Communist coups. While CIA's complicity was not proven, American dollars supported the regimes that carried out extrajudicial killings such as the Pinochet administration. CIA, for instance, helped create DINA and the agency admitted that Contreras was one of its assets.
Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in 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.
On 7, 8, and 9 December 1982 fifteen prominent Surinamese men who had criticized the ruling military regime were murdered. This tragedy is known as the December murders. The acting commander of the army Dési Bouterse has been sentenced 20 years of prison by the Surinamese court martial at 29 November 2019.
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.
a deliberate killing not authorized by a previous judgment 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.[a]
The legality of killings such as in the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 and the death of Qasem Soleimani in 2020 have been brought into question. In that case, the US defended itself claiming the killing was not an assassination but an act of "National Self Defense". There had been just under 2,500 assassinations by targeted drone strike by 2015, and these too have questioned as being extrajudicial killings. Concerns about targeted and sanctioned killings of non-Americans and American citizens in overseas counter-terrorism activities have been raised by lawyers, news firms and private citizens. On September 30, 2011 a drone strike in Yemen killed American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. 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, was 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. The following month, al-Awlaki's son was killed by mistake by another US drone strike.
Afghan officials have presided over murders, abduction, and other abuses with the tacit backing of their government and its western allies, Human Rights Watch says in its report from March 2015.
Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi special security force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has long been known for extrajudicial killing. In a leaked WikiLeaks cable it was found that RAB was trained by the UK government. 16 RAB officials (sacked afterwards) including Lt Col (sacked) Tareque Sayeed, Major (sacked) Arif Hossain, and Lt Commander (sacked) Masud Rana were given death penalty for abduction, murder, concealing the bodies, conspiracy and destroying evidences in the Narayanganj Seven Murder case.
Beside this lots of alleged criminals were killed by Bangladesh police by the name of Crossfire. In 2018, many alleged drug dealers were killed in the name of "War on Drugs" in Bangladesh.
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Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in India. A form of extrajudicial killing is called police encounters. Such encounters are being staged also by military and other security forces. Extrajudicial killings are also common in Indian states especially in Uttar Pradesh where 73 people has been killed from March 2017 to March 2019. Police Encounter on 6 December 2019, by Telangana police in the Priyanka Reddy rape case killing the 4 accused is another form of extrajudicial killing
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.
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.
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 (Prime Minister) and Kurdish (President of the Republic) 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. 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. 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 or killed 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. 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.
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.
In a report in 2015, Amnesty International documented incidents that "appear to have been extrajudicial executions" against Palestinian civilians. Several of those incidents occurred after Palestinians attempted to attack Israelis or Israeli soldiers. Even though the attackers did not pose a serious threat, they were shot without attempting to arrest the suspects before resorting to the use of lethal force. Medical attention for severely wounded Palestinians was in many cases delayed by Israeli forces.
Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in Pakistan. A form of extrajudicial killing called encounter killings by police is common in Pakistan. Case in point is Naqeebullah Mehsud and Sahiwal Killings.
Papua New Guinea
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called the massacre the single deadliest event for journalists in history. Even prior to this, the CPJ had labeled the Philippines the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Iraq.
War on drugs
Following the election of President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016, a campaign against illegal drugs has led to widespread extrajudicial killings. This follows the actions by then-Mayor Duterte to roam Davao in order to "encounter to kill".
The Philippine president has urged its citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts, ordered the police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy has offered bounties for dead suspects, and has even admitted to personally killing suspected criminals.
The move has sparked widespread condemnation from international publications  and magazines, prompting the Philippine government to issue statements denying the existence of state-sanctioned killings.
Though Duterte's controversial war on drugs was opposed by the United States under President Barack Obama, the European Union, and the United Nations, Duterte claims that he has received approving remarks from US President Donald Trump.
On a news report of ABS-CBN dated September 26, 4:17 PM, Duterte issued guidelines that would enable the United Nations Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings to probe the rising death toll. On a news report of GMA News dated December 14, 10:24 PM, Duterte cancelled the planned visit of the Rapporteur for failure of the latter to accept the conditions for the probe.
The Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was October 2, 2018 assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in Thailand. Reportedly thousands of extrajudicial killings occurred during the 2003 anti-drug effort of Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in Turkey. In 1990 Amnesty International published its first report on extrajudicial executions in Turkey. 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:
In 2001 the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms. Asma Jahangir, presented a report on a visit to Turkey. 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).
In 2008 the human rights organization Mazlum Der counted 25 extrajudicial killings in Turkey.
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.
In 1999 Belarusian opposition leaders Yury Zacharanka and Viktar Hanchar together with his business associate Anatol Krasouski disappeared. Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared the same day of a broadcast on state television in which President Alexander Lukashenko ordered the chiefs of his security services to crack down on “opposition scum”. Although the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (KGB) had them under constant surveillance, the official investigation announced that the case could not be solved. The disappearance of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in 2000 has also yielded no results. Copies of a report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which linked senior Belarusian officials to the cases of disappearances, were confiscated. Human Rights Watch claims that Zacharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski and Zavadski likely became victims of extrajudicial executions.
Extrajudicial killings and death squads are common in Russia. In the 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. USA and UK intelligence agents reportedly claim that Russian assassins, some possibly at orders of the government, are behind at least fourteen targeted killings on British soil that police called non-suspicious. The United Kingdom attributes the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March 2018 to the Russian military-intelligence agency GRU.
In Soviet Russia since 1918 Cheka was authorized to execute counter-revolutionaries without trial. Hostages were also executed by Cheka during the Red Terror in 1918–1920. 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 Trotsky in 1940 in Mexico, Stepan Bandera in 1959 in Germany, Georgi Markov in 1978 in London.
From 1983 until 1987, the Spanish government supported paramilitary squads, denominated GAL, to fight ETA, a Basque terrorist organization. A relevant example was the Lasa and Zabala case, in which José Antonio Lasa and José Ignacio Zabala were kidnapped, tortured and executed by police forces in 1983.
Operation Kratos referred to tactics developed by London's Metropolitan Police Service for dealing with suspected suicide bombers, most notably firing shots to the head without warning. Little was revealed about these tactics until after the mistaken shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes on 22 July 2005.
In Northern Ireland, members of the British armed forces, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and British agents, on occasion killed without lawful excuse during The Troubles. Brian Nelson, an Ulster Defence Association member and British Army agent was convicted of sectarian murders.
- Arbitrary arrest and detention
- Deadly force
- Death squad
- Encounter killing
- Extraordinary rendition
- Extrajudicial punishment
- Human rights
- Israeli targeted killings
- Jungle justice
- List of killings by law enforcement officers
- Manhunt (law enforcement)
- Manhunt (military)
- Posse comitatus (common law)
- Summary execution
- Targeted killing
- The Troubles
- 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.
- Special Rapporteur on executions OHCHR
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