Governments may sentence individuals to death either without any trial; or with a trial but without a fair and public hearing, right to legal defence, notification of the charge, right not to be compelled to testify against oneself, right to appeal, or right not to be tried twice for the same offence. Arbitrary executions take place in all parts of the world. They have most frequently taken place in internal armed conflict, during excessive or illegal use of force by law enforcement agents, in custody as a result of torture or after death threats made by members of police, military or paramilitary groups.
Initiatives taken in the 1980s led to a reduction in summary or arbitrary executions in international conflicts but these were not matched by similar initiatives with respect to national; conflicts. Consequently thousands of civilian lives continue to be lost each year in such conflicts, notably through indiscriminate killing of unarmed civilians on the part of governmental forces. Reports in 1988 indicated a marked increase in the number of people who had lost their lives at the hands of police or law enforcement officials during the course of demonstrations.
In 1984, instances of summary execution were reported in at least 12 countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Cameroon, Guatemala, Iran, Kuwait, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1991 they were reported in 11 countries: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.
Extrajudicial executions in Guatemala, under President Cezero, have primarily affected popular organizations, peasants, trade unions and student's associations. Often, the motive appeared to be the belief that the victim had ties with underground guerrilla organizations.