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Collective punishment is the punishment of a group of people as a result of the behaviour of one or more other individuals or groups. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions. In times of war and armed conflict, collective punishment has resulted in atrocities, and is a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. Historically, occupying powers have used collective punishment to retaliate against and deter attacks on their forces by resistance movements (e.g. destroying whole towns and villages where attacks have taken place).


18th century

The Intolerable Acts were seen as a collective punishment of Massachusettsmarker for the Boston Tea Partymarker.

19th century

The principle of collective punishment was laid out by U.S General William Tecumseh Sherman in his Special Field Order 120, November 9, 1864, which laid out the rules for his "March to the sea" in the American Civil War:

To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, etc..., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

20th century

The British in the Boer War and the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War and World War I justified such actions as being in accord with the laws of war then in force.

During WWII, in 1942, the Germans destroyed the village of Lidicemarker Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) killing 340 inhabitants as collective punishment or reprisal for that year's assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by commandos nearby the village (the village of Ležákymarker was also destroyed in retribution). In the French village of Oradour-sur-Glanemarker 642 of its inhabitants — men, women, and children — were slaughtered by the German Waffen-SS in 1944. In the Dutch village of Puttenmarker and the Italian villages of Sant'Anna di Stazzemamarker and Marzabottomarker, as well as in the Soviet village of Kortelisy (in what is now Ukraine), large scale reprisal killings were carried out by the Germans.

According to the New York Times, the British planned "'collective punishment' for aiding Reds, rewards and more troops" in Malaya in 1951. The British used collective punishment as an official policy to suppress the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in 1952. In 1956, Britain officially used collective punishment in Cyprus in the form of evicting families from their homes and closing shops anywhere British soldiers and police had been murdered, to obtain information about the identity (ies) of the attackers Today, it is considered by most nations contradictory to the modern concept of due process, where each individual receives separate treatment based on his or her role in the crime in question. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically forbids collective punishment.

Joseph Stalin's mass deportations of many nations of the USSR to remote regions (including the Chechens, Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and many others) is an example of officially-orchestrated collective punishment.

The partial removal of potentially trouble-making ethnic groups was a technique used consistently by Joseph Stalin during his career: Poles (1939-1941 and 1944-1945), Romanians (1941 and 1944-1953) Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians (1941 and 1945-1949), Volga Germans (1941), Chechens, Ingushs (1944), Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union.[692506] It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. By some estimates up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition.

The deportations started with Poles from Belarusmarker, Ukrainemarker and European Russia (see Polish minority in Soviet Union) 1932-1936. Koreans in the Russian Far East were deported in 1937 (see Deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union). After the Soviet invasion of Poland following the corresponding German invasion that marked the start of World War II in 1939, the Soviet Unionmarker annexed eastern parts (so-called "Kresy") of the Second Polish Republicmarker. During 1939-1941 1.45 million people inhabiting the region were deported by the Soviet regime, of whom 63.1% were Poles, and 7.4% were Jews. Poland's Holocaust, Tadeusz Piotrowski, 1998 ISBN 0-7864-0371-3, P.14 The same followed in the Baltic Republics of Latviamarker, Lithuaniamarker and Estoniamarker. More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been deported from the Baltic in 1940-1953. 10% of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps. (see June deportation, Operation Priboi, Soviet deportations from Estonia) Volga Germans and seven (overwhelmingly Turkic or non-Slavic) nationalities of the Crimeamarker and the northern Caucasus were deported: the Crimean Tatars, Kalmyksmarker, Chechens, Ingushmarker, Balkars, Karachaymarker, and Meskhetian Turks. All Crimean Tatars were deported en masse, in a form of collective punishment.

Pogroms may be considered examples of unofficial collective punishment which resemble rioting. About 14 million East Germans were moved out of what was Germany; only 11 million survived.

Black January was a massacre of civilians committed by the Red Army in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. The Human Rights Watch report entitled "Black January in Azerbaijan" states: "Indeed, the violence used by the Soviet Army on the night of January 19-20 was so out of proportion to the resistance offered by Azerbaijanis as to constitute an exercise in collective punishment."

Dahr Jamail has accused the US army of collective punishment in Iraq, "similar to those used by Israeli troops in the occupied territories of Palestine".[692507].

The Chinesemarker government has been accused of using collective punishment in its actions against the peoples of Tibet. [692508]

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights condemned the actions of Bahrain's military against people traveling to Um'Nessan island as collective punishment. [692509]

In the Israeli/Palestinian conflict


On 20 May 2008, the Pakistani Army conducted collective punishment against a village called Spinkaimarker, located in the frontier province of Pakistanmarker. The operation was called 'zalzala' which is Urdu for earthquake. At first, the Pakistan Army swept through with helicopter gunships, artillery and tanks that crunched across a parched riverbed. After four days of heavy fighting, 25 militants and six soldiers died. The rest of the militants retreated up the valley. After the capture of the village the army discovered bomb factories, detonation-ready suicide jackets and schools for teenage suicide bombers.

The Pakistan Army immediately decided to punish the village for harboring the Taliban and allowing the militants to operate in and from the village to conduct further terror attacks in Pakistan. Bulldozers and explosives experts turned Spinkai's bazaar into a mile-long pile of rubble. Petrol stations, shops, and even parts of the hospital were levelled or blown up. The villagers were forbidden from returning to their homes.


KEK (Korporata Energjetike e Kosovës - English: Kosovo's Energy Corporation) is a public company, the only one entitled to produce and distribute electricity in Kosovo. KEK collectively punishes communities with lower rate of electricity bills paid. For example: if in a community 45 % of households pay regularly their electricity bills and 55 % do not pay regularly, the entire community (even those who regularly pay) is punished with 3 hours electrical blackout.

See also


  1. Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman, 2nd ed., D. Appleton & Co., 1913 (1889), Chapter XXI. Reprinted by the Library of America, 1990, ISBN 0-940450-65-8.
  2. "The laws of war as to conquered territory" by William Miller Collier, New York Times, November 29, 1914, p SM6
  3. Oradour-sur-Glane - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  4. * Official Website
  5. The New York Times > International > Europe > Tiny Town Lost in Tides of History
  6. Massacres and Atrocities of WWII in the Axis Countries
  7. World War II in Ukraine: Kortelisy (Ukraine), Lidice (Czechoslovakia) & Oradour-sur-Glane (France): Razed Villages.
  8. "British to step up Malaya campaign; 1951 plans include 'collective punishment' for aiding Reds, rewards and more troops" New York Times, Dec. 17, 1950, p 12
  9. "Labor's censure over Kenya fails" New York Times, Dec 17, 1952, p16
  10. Britain punishes Cypriote balking in informer role" New York Times,Mar. 17, 1956, p1
  11. The Stalin Era
  12. Soviet Transit, Camp, and Deportation Death Rates
  13. Soviet Mass Deportations from Latvia
  14. The Baltic States
  15. Communism and Crimes against Humanity in the Baltic states
  16. Deportation
  17. Deportation of Crimean Tatars by Stalin
  18. Remembering Stalin's deportations
  19. [1]

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