Judicial killings by the Police

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In India, “encounter killings” are tragically common. Encounter killing is now a euphemism to indicate extrajudicial execution by the police in staged “encounter” scenarios where persons are killed apparently in exercise of the police’s right to self-defence. Incidents of encounter killings are widely reported in news media and are even glorified.

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Perpetrators of this brand of violence enjoy impunity and immunity from the criminal justice system. Further, police personnel with special “expertise” in extrajudicial killings are hailed as “encounter specialists”, enjoy key positions in the system and are revered in the State institution and in civil society. This widespread support of encounter killing is also attributable to the fact that, most commonly, victims are those considered anti-social elements with criminal antecedents. The wide prevalence of encounter deaths or extra-judicial killings by the Police and the Armed Forces post independent period has been documented by various human rights organizations. A study conducted by the Asia Pacific Human Rights Network noted that encounter killings were not isolated incidents but occurred throughout India. They are part of a “deliberate and conscious state administrative practice” for which successive Indian governments must bear responsibility.[1] Indeed, successive Indian governments have adopted a de facto policy sanctioning extra-judicial killings by members of the police forces, army and security personnel. Definitions: Extra judicial killings, as defined in the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, refers to the “”the practice of killing and executing political opponents or suspected offenders carried out by armed forces, law enforcement or other governmental agencies or by paramilitary or political groups” acting with the support, tacit or otherwise, of official forces or agencies.”[2] According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary ‘encounter’ in general means “unexpectedly be faced with or experience (something hostile or difficult)”, it can be defined in the context for the present purpose as “an incident in which police shoot dead a suspected criminal”.[3] Sir Nigel Rodley, UN Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Torture (1993-2003),extra-judicial executions as “killings committed outside the judicial process by or with the consent of, public officials, other than as necessary measures of law enforcement to protect life or as acts of armed conflict carried out in conformity with the rules of international humanitarian law.[4] Amnesty International in a 2003 report characterised an extra-judicial execution as “an unlawful and deliberate killing carried out by order of a government or with its acquiescence”. The report further says that “Extra-judicial killings are killings which can reasonably be assumed to be the result of a policy at any level of government to eliminate specific individuals as an alternative to arresting them and bringing them to justice. These killings take place outside any judicial framework.”[5] The phrase ‘encounter killing’ is derived from the term ‘encounter’ as employed by the Indian Police Service,

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