13 Jul 2015

Stemming Extrajudicial Killings - by Fred Nwaozor

An extrajudicial killing is the murder of a person for an alleged crime or offence carried out either by an individual or a group of persons without any official backing, directive or supervision from a court of law of competent jurisdiction through a legal proceeding.

Extrajudicial killing or punishment also known as “jungle justice”, which is usually carried out either by a government agency or an angry mob or sometimes by an individual, has been on the increase in recent times in such a manner that it requires a severe and drastic approach by the appropriate authorities.

Extrajudicial punishment used to be a feature of politically repressive regimes, but lately even self-proclaimed or internationally recognised democracies have been known to use the measure under certain circumstances. But the truth of the matter is that, it is illegal and barbaric; hence, unacceptable.

Such actions typically happen quickly with security forces acting on a covert basis, performed in such a way as to avoid public outcry and/or international criticism that would reflect badly on the state or country. Sometimes, the killers are agents outside the government; some criminal organisations have reportedly been employed for such a purpose.

In most cases, it is carried out by uniformed security forces in order to punish a victim, but under circumstances that would make it appear as self-defence or suicide. The former can be accomplished by planting recently fired weapons near the dead body, while the latter is observed via fabrication of evidence suggesting suicide. In such cases, it could be difficult to prove that the perpetrators acted wrongly.

Because of the dangers inherent in armed confrontation, even policemen or soldiers as the case may be, who might strongly prefer to take an enemy or a suspect alive may still be tempted to kill under a certain circumstance to protect themselves or the affected civilians, and potentially cross the line into extrajudicial murder.

In some cases, someone may be declared missing having been murdered by a certain group. A disappearance occurs where someone who is believed to have been targeted for extrajudicial execution is nowhere to be found. Their ultimate fate is thereafter unknown or never fully confirmed.

In times of war, natural disaster, societal collapse, anarchy, or in the absence of an established system of criminal justice, as the case may be, there may be increased cases of extrajudicial punishment. In an such circumstance, the police or military personnel may be unofficially authorised to punish severely individuals involved in looting, riot as well as other violent acts such as massacre, especially if caught red-handed. This measure is sometimes itself corrupted resulting in the death of innocent persons who probably were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

More so, someone whose case is in court may be brutally murdered in cold blood by the aggrieved party or the plaintiff owing to inconsequential and unbearable delay of the court proceeding/hearing. This is why the various judicial custodians must be more proactive in discharging their official duties come rain come shine.

Fred Nwaozor
Owerri, Imo State

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