The term government-sponsored violence is a broad concept that summarizes the governmental endorsement of violence, both physical and psychological, aimed to change or maintain a political objective within a nation. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines these actions as “the deliberate use of power and force to achieve political goals.”(Sousa, Cindy). Political violence has been continuously used for centuries. The spectrum of violence used against civilians is considerably large. Forms of government-sponsored violence include interstate war, intercommunal violence, terrorism, organized crime/cartels, political assassination, mass rebellion, state repression, military coup, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. These appalling events can be observed throughout the entirety of history and modern society.
For instance, the ongoing civil war in Syria consists of many threatening actions originating from the state. Despite an abundant number of time-consuming efforts and initiatives to end this conflict, “Syrian civilians are still being killed, detained, displaced and unable to return home safely.” (Political Process Possible).
Similarly, government cruelty is being employed in Yemen. The United Nations attempted to solve this issue by mediating a truce, resulting in a decrease in reported fatalities. Nevertheless, political violence is still present the Armed Conflict Location and Event Date project, ACLED, reports an average of 200 reported fatalities per month due to political violence. That represent 22% of overall reported deaths in the country during the truce (Violence in Yemen). Overall, the use of this harmful tool has had a 17% increase in a global scale. (Violence in Yemen)
Even though violence is widely rejected on principle, recently, it has been shown civilians have begun to claim political violence as acceptable. Studies have shown that in the United States of America, ‘political violence is considered more acceptable than it was five years ago…’ (Kleinfeld, Rachel). This rise in the agreement of violence used for political means shows individuals believe there might be benefits to it. These may include the capability to weaken the opposing side and placing the position group in a favorable position, which may decrease civilian riots and hate crimes. Obedience of the population is pivotal to ensure the government an easier task at maintaining an undisturbed environment (Political Violence).
Moreover, the majority of the outcomes of physical violence results in the compliance of the powerless individual (Political Violence). When making use of physical torture, it is common for activities such as murder, captivation, starvation to be put in place, as it pains and frightens the victim into obeying the entity in power. In addition to that, psychological violence is also put in place to reach political benefits such as revolution or regaining of control. The WHO shows ‘one-third to one-half of people exposed to political violence will endure some form of mental distress, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety.’(Sousa, Cindy). Furthermore, the detrimental effect of government-sponsored violence has on one individual is highly likely to affect the generalized community. The severe discomfort of the population could result in collective trepidation, leading to the desired generalized compliance.
Nonetheless, anguished groups could rebel, resulting in major issues for the governmental system and its equanimity (Political Violence). Therefore, utilizing violence as a political tool could also have a detrimental effect on the individual enforcing it. An example of this was seen during the Brazilian military regime, in 1985, where numerous unsatisfied and weary civilians initiated a movement against the dictatorship, overthrowing the regime and installing a democracy. (Revolution, Not Transition). Both beneficial and harmful aspects of state violence as a tool can be identified.
The potential efficiency of political violence against tyrannical regimes raises the important question on to what extent or under what conditions is it acceptable?
Kleinfeld, Rachel. "The Rise in Political Violence in the United States and Damage to Our Democracy." Carnegie, 31 Mar. 2022, carnegieendowment.org/2022/03/31/rise-in-political-violence-in-united-states-and-damage-to-our-democracy-pub-87584. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.
"No Place for Violence as a Political Tool." Economic Times, 28 May 2016, economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-editorials/no-place-for-violence-as-a-political-tool/?source=app&frmapp=yes. Accessed 8 Nov. 2023.
"Political Process Possible for Syria, but Cannot Advance until Violence Abates, Senior Official Tells Security Council." Relief Web, 15 Sept. 2022, reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/political-process-possible-syria-cannot-advance-until-violence-abates-senior-official-tells-security-council. Accessed 25 Oct. 2023.
"Political Violence." AIC Gov, www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-12/vt09.pdf. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.
"Revolution, Not Transition: The Collapse of the Brazilian Military Regime." University of Chicago, 23 Mar. 2023, voices.uchicago.edu/vaeranda/2023/03/23/revolution-not-transition-the-collapse-of-the-brazilian-military-regime/. Accessed 25 Oct. 2023.
Sousa, Cindy. "Political Violence, Collective Functioning and Health." National Library of Medicine, 1 July 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3801099/#:~:text=Distrust%2C%20isolation%2C%20and%20withdrawal%20are%20consequences%20of%20political%20violence. Accessed 6 Oct. 2023.
"Violence in Yemen during the UN-Mediated Truce: April-October 2022." ACLED, 14 Oct. 2022, acleddata.com/2022/10/14/violence-in-yemen-during-the-un-mediated-truce-april-october-2022/. Accessed 25 Oct. 2023.