Government sanctioned killing

Other Names:
Extrajudicial killing
Government sanctioned murder
Government sanctioned assassination
Death squads
Political murders authorized by governments
Staged encounter killings
Political killings
Government hit squads
Homicidal crimes of the state

Police may stage false encounters with criminals or political opponents in order to eliminate them because they cannot obtain sufficient evidence to bring them to justice before the country's courts of law. Staged incidences may include 'suicide whilst under cross-examination', 'battle encounters', 'escape from prison' and 'resistance to arrest'. In fact these are terms intended to mask official murder. Governments may also arrange an assassination of one of the leaders of an enemy country or international movements or organizations by secret police or some illegal underground organization.

Political murders authorized by governments may take the form of disappearances, staged incidents, "suicides" or death caused by gang warfare. Governments often try to dismiss such events, whether by denying that they have taken place at all, by attempting to attribute them to opposition forces, or by alleging they resulted from armed confrontation with government forces, or that the victim was murdered while attempting to escape from custody. The killings are often accompanied by intimidation of witnesses and relatives of victims, and suppression of evidence. Victims may be chosen for their political beliefs or activities, religion, ethnic origin, sex, colour or language. There is occasionally a show trial to prove lack of government involvement and, given the nature of the complicity, it is virtually impossible to appeal against the verdict or otherwise hope for justice.


In India, the killing of suspected dacoits (robbers) was common during the 1960s. In 1983, the President of the Human Rights Commission of El Salvador, Marianela Garcia, was killed by security forces in what was called an 'encounter with guerrilla forces'. This was in fact the elimination of a redoubtable enemy, while at the same time attempting to defame her political character and to reduce world disapproval for her murder.

It was alleged in 1999 that Belgian officers were involved in the killing of Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Republic of Congo, in 1961.

In examples of political murder Amnesty International has cited the following countries:


Governments frequently employ techniques aimed at concealing their actions and evading their accountability to the world. The very term "death squads" was misleading, giving the impression of groups beyond official control. In fact, all too frequently, "death squads" merely constituted a clandestine method by which the security forces pursued their objectives of countering real or perceived opponents of the prevailing system or even suspected common criminals.


Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Date of last update
24.07.2019 – 15:43 CEST