State terrorism

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State terrorism, also known as state-sponsored terrorism when perpetrated by individuals or groups on behalf of the state but independent of it, are acts of terrorism that are perpetrated by a national government against its own citizens. Basically, it is acts of terror that are perpetrated by the state / government rather than an hostile independent force.

Dictatorships often commit acts of state terror against the populace in order to strike fear into them as well as to eliminate possible dissidents, either via kidnapping, forced disappearances, or outright extrajudicial murder. These acts are often perpetrated by death squads or secret police forces that are specifically given orders to perform the above actions against perceived "enemies of the state". Sometimes, these designated "enemies of the state" are imprisoned in concentration camps.

State terrorism can occur during both wartime and peacetime, and is considered both a war crime and a crime against humanity depending on the situation.

Historical uses of state terrorism

  • Both Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin implemented state terrorism during their respective tenures as Leader of the Soviet Union.
  • The most well-known case of state terrorism is Operation Condor, which was carried out by various right-wing military dictatorships all across South America during the 1970's and 80's and was heavily supported by the United States, under direction of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
  • The Suharto regime in Indonesia committed state terrorism against East Timor during their invasion and subsequent occupation of the region from 1975 to 1999. Most of the killings - which were effectively a campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing - occurred in the 1970's.
  • Syria has been accused of committing state terrorism - particularly the government of Bashar al-Assad during the Syrian Civil War; there have been numerous confirmed accounts of Syrian government forces committing war crimes against civilians.
  • The Derg military junta that ruled Ethiopia during the Cold War perpetrated a campaign of state terror and political repression known as the Qey Shibir against other competing Marxist-Leninist groups in Ethiopia and Eritrea from 1976 to 1977.
  • The Cambodian Genocide, perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 (the entirety of the Khmer Rouge's rule) could be considered state terrorism.
  • Efraín Ríos Montt utilized state terrorism during his year as the dictator of Guatemala from 1982 to 1983.
  • During the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, a campaign of state terrorism began in the country, which produced multiple violations of human rights. During 1973, the Caravan of Death was created, a death squad led by Sergio Arellano Stark who dedicated himself to the extermination of opponents in northern Chile, and the DINA, a secret police led by Manuel Contreras who dedicated himself to repression. and torture of opponents.
  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka, has been accused of funding terrorist groups in return for the assassination of political opponents.

Legal definition as applies to terrorism

There has been some debate on what specifically separates terrorism from state terrorism. The Encyclopædia Britannica Online defines terrorism generally as "the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective", and states that "terrorism is not legally defined in all jurisdictions." The encyclopedia adds that "[e]stablishment terrorism, often called state or state-sponsored terrorism, is employed by governments – or more often by factions within governments – against that government's citizens, against factions within the government, or against foreign governments or groups."

Scholar Gus Martin describes state terrorism as terrorism "committed by governments and quasi-governmental agencies and personnel against perceived threats", which can be directed against both domestic and foreign targets. Noam Chomsky defines state terrorism as "terrorism practised by states (or governments) and their agents and allies". Jeffrey A. Sluka has described Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman as pioneers in academic studies about state terrorism.

Stohl and George A. Lopez have designated three categories of state terrorism, based on the openness/secrecy with which the alleged terrorist acts are performed, and whether states directly perform the acts, support them, or acquiesce in them.