Political violence is distressingly widespread in many parts of the world. This paper reviews the forms and effects of political violence and devotes particular attention to experiences from Central America and Southern Africa. The forms of violence vary from those which are extensive such as civil unrest and war, to those which are intensive, such as assassinations, disappearances and torture. The effects of violence on health may be direct, such as deaths, disabilities, psychological stress and the destruction of health services, or indirect such as the erosion of innovative health policies in favour of increased military expenditure. Health workers have a role to play in opposing political violence, providing care for those affected by violence, and documenting and analysing its impact on health. Research needs include documenting the impact of different forms of violence on health, and analysing the social and political factors which promote and support political violence. It is hoped that increasing recognition of political violence and man-made violence as being of major public health concern will play a part in promoting a more peaceful world.