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Political violence

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Title: Political violence  
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Subject: Terrorism in the European Union, Religious paranoia, Terror (politics), Crime in Bangladesh, Direct action
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Political violence

Political violence is a common means used by people and governments around the world to achieve political goals. Many groups and individuals believe that their political systems will never respond to their political demands. As a result they believe that violence is not only justified but also necessary in order to achieve their political objectives. By the same token, many governments around the world believe they need to use violence in order to intimidate their populace into acquiescence. At other times, governments use force in order to defend their country from outside invasion or other threats of force and to coerce other governments or conquer territory.[1] Political violence can take a number of forms including but not limited to those listed below. Non-action on the part of the government can also be characterized as a form of political violence. Some would argue that political violence and the modern nation-states are inseparable, as the drastic increase of political violence in the 20th century shows.


One form of political violence is genocide. Genocide is commonly defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group",[2] though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars.[3] Genocide is typically carried out with either the overt or covert support of the governments of those countries engaged in genocidal activities. The Holocaust is the most often cited historical example of genocide.

Human rights violations

Human rights violations occur when basic human rights (including civil, political, cultural, social, and economic rights) are abused, ignored or denied. Furthermore, violations of human rights can occur when any state or non-state actor breaches any part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights treaty or other international human rights or humanitarian law. In regard to human rights violations of United Nations laws, Article 39 of the United Nations Charter designates the UN Security Council (or an appointed authority) as the only tribunal that may determine UN human rights violations.

Human rights abuses are monitored by United Nations committees, national institutions and governments and by many independent Freedom House, International Freedom of Expression Exchange and Anti-Slavery International. These organisations collect evidence and documentation of alleged human rights abuses and apply pressure to enforce human rights laws.

Wars of aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide, are breaches of International humanitarian law and represent the most serious of human rights violations. In efforts to eliminate violations of human rights, building awareness and protesting inhumane treatment has often led to calls for action and sometimes improved conditions. The UN Security Council has interceded with peace-keeping forces and other states have intervened in situations ostensibly to protect human rights.[4]


War is a state of organized, armed, and often prolonged conflict carried on between states, nations, or other parties[5][6] typified by extreme aggression, social disruption, and usually high mortality.[5] War should be understood as an actual, intentional and widespread armed conflict between political communities, and therefore is defined as a form of political violence.[7] Three of the ten most costly wars, in terms of loss of life, have been waged in the last century: the death toll of World War II, estimated at more than 60 million, surpasses all other war death tolls by a factor of two. It is estimated that 378,000 people died due to war each year between 1985 and 1994.[8]

Police brutality

Police brutality is another form of political violence. It is most commonly described in juxtaposition with the term excessive force. Police brutality can be defined as "a civil rights violation that occurs when a police officer acts with excessive force by using an amount of force with regards to a civilian that is more than necessary."[9] Police brutality and the use of excessive force are present throughout the world and in the United States alone, 4,861 incidences of police misconduct were reported during 2010 (see also Police brutality (United States)).[10] Of these, there were 6,826 victims involved and 247 fatalities. Most recently, police have killed people in Ukraine.


Famine is a result of a set of conditions that occurs when a large number of people in a region cannot obtain sufficient food, resulting in widespread, acute malnutrition and death. Famine can be initiated by government's inefficient distribution of food and resources or policy making, whether it be intentional or not. Elements such as poverty, a suppressive political regime, and a weak, under-prepared government make a particular region more vulnerable to famine. In the 20th century alone, an estimated 70 million people died from famine across the world.[11] Between 16.5 and 46 million people perished in the Famine of China in 1958-61, the largest famine in history and also one that resulted from government policies and a lack of response that perpetuated the problem.[12] North Korea is another example of misappropriation of resources resulting in widespread famines, but there is not an accurate number of deaths because of the government's willingness to mask the issue.


Counter-insurgency, another form of political violence, describes a spectrum of actions taken by the recognized government of a nation to contain or quell an insurgency taken up against it.[13] There are a many different doctrines, theories, and tactics espoused regarding counter-insurgency that aim to protect the authority of the government and to reduce or eliminate the supplanting authority of the insurgents. Because it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish between an insurgent, a supporter of an insurgency who is a non-combatant, and entirely uninvolved members of the population, counter-insurgency operations have often rested on a confused, relativistic, or otherwise situational distinction between insurgents and non-combatants. Counter-insurgency operations are common during war, occupation and armed rebellions.


Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain (whether physical or psychological) as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Torture is prohibited under Amnesty International and the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims monitor abuses of human rights and reports widespread violations of human torture in by states in many regions of the world.[15] Amnesty International estimates that at least 81 world governments currently practice torture, some of them openly.[16]

Capital punishment

Capital punishment is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offense. This does not include extrajudicial killing which is the killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process. The use of capital punishment by country varies, but according to Amnesty International 58 countries still actively use the death penalty, and in 2010, 23 countries carried out executions and 67 imposed death sentences. Methods of execution in 2010 included beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal injection and shooting.[17] In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly passed the UN moratorium on the death penalty which called for worldwide abolition of the death penalty.[18]

Notes and references

  1. ^ Nelson Education, Political Violence,
  2. ^ See generally Funk, T. Marcus (2010). Victims' Rights and Advocacy at the International Criminal Court. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. p. [1].  
  3. ^ What is Genocide? McGill Faculty of Law (McGill University)
  4. ^ Nickel, James. "Human Rights". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 20 October 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "American Heritage Dictionary: War". Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  6. ^ "Merriam Webster's Dictionary: War". 2010-08-13. Retrieved 2011-01-24. 
  7. ^ "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy". 
  8. ^ Obermeyer Z, Murray CJ, Gakidou E (June 2008). "Fifty years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia: analysis of data from the world health survey programme". BMJ 336 (7659): 1482–6.  
  9. ^ "Police Brutality Law & Legal Definitions". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Devereux, S. (1993-02-16). "Famine in the Twentieth Century". IDS. Retrieved 2011-11-21. 
  12. ^ "The Great Leap Backward". The New York Times. 1997-02-16. Retrieved 2011-10-22. 
  13. ^ An insurgency is a rebellion against a constituted authority (for example an authority recognized as such by the United Nations) when those taking part in the rebellion are not recognized as belligerents (Oxford English Dictionary second edition 1989 "insurgent B. n. One who rises in revolt against constituted authority; a rebel who is not recognized as a belligerent.")
  14. ^ "'"Torture and Ill-Treatment in the 'War on Terror.  
  15. ^ Amnesty International Report 2005 Report 2006
  16. ^ "Report 08: At a Glance".  
  17. ^ "The Death Penalty in 2010". Amnesty International. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 
  18. ^ "Death Penalty in International Law". Amnesty International. Retrieved 22 November 2011. 


  • Paul Hollander, Political Violence: Belief, Behavior, and Legitimation, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  • Philip Herbst, Talking terrorism: a dictionary of the loaded language of political violence, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.

Further reading

  • James Mensch, Political Violence,
  • Political Terror Scale
  • CIRI Human Rights Data Project
  • Rummel, Rudolph J. Death by Government. New Brunswick [u.a.: Transaction Publ., 2002. Print.
  • Mitchell, Neil J. Agents of Atrocity: Leaders, Followers and the Violation of Human Rights in Civil War. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.


  • The Genocide in Darfur is Not What It Seems Christian Science Monitor
  • (in Spanish) Aizenstatd, Najman Alexander. "Origen y Evolución del Concepto de Genocidio". Vol. 25 Revista de Derecho de la Universidad Francisco Marroquín 11 (2007). ISSN 1562-2576 [2]
  • No Lessons Learned from the Holocaust? Assessing Risks of Genocide and Political Mass Murder since 1955 American Political Science Review. Vol. 97, No. 1. February 2003.
  • Harff, B. and T. R. Gurr (1988). "Toward Empirical Theory of Genocides and Politicides: Identification and Measurement of Cases since 1945." International Studies Quarterly 32: 359-371.
  • What Really Happened in Rwanda? Christian Davenport and Allan C. Stam.
  • Reyntjens, F. (2004). "Rwanda, Ten Years On: From Genocide to Dictatorship." African Affairs 103(411): 177-210.
  • Brysk, Alison. 1994. “The Politics of Measurement: The Contested Count of the Disappeared in Argentina.” Human Rights Quarterly 16: 676-92.
  • Davenport, C. and P. Ball (2002). "Views to a Kill: Exploring the Implications of Source Selection in the Case of Guatemalan State Terror, 1977-1996." Journal of Conflict Resolution 46(3): 427-450.
  • Krain, M. (1997). "State-Sponsored Mass Murder: A Study of the Onset and Severity of Genocides and Politicides." Journal of Conflict Resolution 41(3): 331-360.


  • Grossman, Lt. Col. Dave. "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society." 2009. New York: Back Bay Books.
  • Gabriel, R.A. "No More Heroes: Madness and Psychiatry in War." 1987. New York: Hill and Wang.
  • Ardant du Picq, C. "Battle Studies." 1946. Harrisburg, PA: Telegraph Press.
  • Clausewitz, C.M. von. "On War." 1976. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Holmes, R. "Acts of War: The Behavior of Men in Battle." 1985. New York: Free Press.
  • Lorenz, K. "On Agression." 1963. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Shalit, B. "The Psychology of Conflict and Combat." 1988. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Police Brutality

  • della Porta, D., A. Peterson and H. Reiter, eds. (2006). The Policing of Transnational Protest. Aldershot, Ashgate.
  • della Porta, D. and H. Reiter (1998). Policing Protest: The Control of Mass Demonstrations in Western Democracies. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
  • Donner, F. J. 1990. Protectors of Privilege: Red Squads and Police Repression in Urban America. Berkeley, University of California Press.
  • Earl, Jennifer S. and Sarah A. Soule. 2006. “Seeing Blue: A Police-Centered Explanation of Protest Policing.” Mobilization 11(2): 145-164.
  • Earl, J. (2003). "Tanks, Tear Gas and Taxes: Toward a Theory of Movement Repression." Sociological Theory 21(1): 44-68.
  • Franks, C. E. S., Ed. (1989). Dissent and the State. Toronto, Oxford University Press.
  • Grossman, Dave. (1996). On Killing – The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War & Society. Little, Brown & Co.,.
  • McPhail, Clark, David Schweingruber, and John D. McCarthy (1998). “Protest Policing in the United States, 1960-1995.” pp. 49–69 in Policing Protest: The Control of Mass Demonstrations in Western Democracies, edited by D. della Porta and H. Reiter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Oliver, P. (2008). “Repression and Crime Control: Why Social Movements Scholars Should Pay Attention to Mass Incarceration Rates as a Form of Repression” Mobilization 13(1): 1-24.
  • Zwerman G, Steinhoff P. (2005). When activists ask for trouble: state-dissident interactions and the new left cycle of resistance in the United States and Japan. In Repression and Mobilization, ed. C. Davenport, H. Johnston, C. Mueller, pp. 85–107. Minneapolis: Univ. Minn. Press


Capital Punishment

  • Looking Deathworthy:Perceived stereotypicality of Black defendants predicts capital-sentencing Psychological Science
  • Sarat, Austin. The Killing State: Capital Punishment in Law, Politics, and Culture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.
  • Bowers, William J., Glenn L. Pierce, John F. McDevitt, and William J. Bowers. Legal Homicide: Death as Punishment in America, 1864-1982. Boston: Northeastern UP, 1984. Print.
  • Death Penalty Facts 2011 Amnesty International
  • Sarat, Austin, and Jurgen Martschukat. Is the Death Penalty Dying?: European and American Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
  • Hammel, Andrew. Ending the Death Penalty: the European Experience in Global Perspective. Basingstoke [u.a.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
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