What Is Collective Punishment?

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  • Written By: Esther Ejim
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2020
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Collective punishment is a term that is used to refer to a situation in which a collective group of people are punished in retribution for the perceived offense of one individual from the group, or for the offense of several individuals from the group. Collective punishment may also be a form of punishment in which a group of people are punished due to activities that occurred in close proximity to them, such as within their environment. This type of punishment makes no distinction between the innocent and the accused,and it also does not matter if the members of the group were not aware that such an activity took place among them.

Wide use of collective punishment occurs in times of war and instability. Collective punishment is also used in other situations as a means of retributive or collective punitive justice. For example, in times of war, whole members of a community or religious group may be targeted and exterminated for the perceived wrongdoings of a handful of a few members in such communities. If some rebels emerge from a community to challenge an authoritarian leadership, these rebels might be hunted so that they may be captured and dealt with as examples for others who might have the same inclinations. If the rebels flee into their village, the whole village may be punished as a result of the actions of a few.


This type of collective punishment also occurs in other milder forms. In such situations, members of a group may be treated in a certain manner due to the actions of some members of the group. This type of collective punishment is also responsible for racial profiling in which the members of a certain race are treated as likely criminals and punished more severely than members of other races, even for the same category of offense.

The same applies to religion, in which members of certain faiths may be targeted for extermination based on certain actions by some members of the religion. This type of collective punishment has led to the mass annihilation of members of a certain faith without any distinction between children, women, infants and innocent men. Such atrocities have been recognized as war crimes under the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Convention that recognized collective punishment as war crimes came subsequent to the mass killings that occurred in the wake of World War I and World War II.


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Post 2

@Vincenzo -- I don't know that I would call that collective punishment. If you don't have laws that restrict what everyone does, then society could break down into complete and total anarchy.

We can't run around doing whatever we want. That should not be considered collective punishment. More like law and order.

Post 1

One could argue that a lot of our laws are effectively collective punishment. Take gun control laws, for example. Because a very limited number of people use guns to commit crimes in the United States, the rest of us have to deal with background checks, limits on what types of weapons we can buy, etc.

In other words, the many have to pay for the terrible crimes of the few. If that is not collective punishment, I am not sure what is.

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