The international law aims at maintaining peace and stability globally. However, differences between nations in terms of standards upheld or disagreements stimulate wars. The concept of globalization though encouraging growth, has facilitated the development of contemporary war. This is through increased violence not for territorial property, but more for global identity with increased funding and involvement of many nations. The international law is incapacitated by the lack of a clear definition of terrorism thus is unable to suggest counter terrorism acts. Ideally, international law has to protect both victims and perpetrators of crime through upholding human rights. The statement made by Helen Duffy in her book The War on Terror is worth exploring in the concept of counter terrorism and definition for the role of international law.
Scholars and analysts agree that the term terrorism has not been clearly defined in the concept of international law with national definitions for the same differing among nations. Although it is difficult to define terrorism, the term elicits the feeling of fear, attack and raises emotional and political attitudes. Definition of terrorism has been controversial over the years but linked to violation of human rights in terms of liberty, right to life, physical attacks, destabilization of governments, undermining of civil society, threatening social and economic development and jeopardizing peace and stability.1 The controversy surrounding the definition is further encouraged by the fact that legal systems of some nations glorify terrorist acts while others view it as an ordinary crime.2 3 Additionally, it is difficult for the definition in circumstances of conflicts or where it is justifiable for self defence.
Definition of terrorism has not only been difficult for the international law agencies and governments but also for scholars due to the moral judgments involved; with the labelling of some nations and groups as terrorists and their discrimination as being behind the terrorist attacks. The difficulty also arises from the fact that it is carried out by groups organized with chains of command, the tactics used are not probabilistic but more guerrilla like, the high costs involved, the close association with enmity between nations, the differences between domestic and modern terrorism and military efforts and the reactions in terrorisms by the victims.4
Duffy argues that terrorism has different levels including one threatening security, property and honour as political terrorism; cultural terrorism which affects human identity; informational terrorism; military terrorism; diplomatic or economic terrorism among others.5 However, terrorists’ attacks that have clearly influenced definition include the 9/11 attacks on the United States in which around 3,000 people lost their lives.6 Saul asserts that terrorism needs to be accorded seriousness with the elements of violence occurring during times of peace, with purposes of political, ethnic, ideological or religious nature and with the aim of victimization and creating fear.7 Kaldor emphasizes that the concept of terrorism is not based on ideology but identity hence the need for definition based on standards.8
Counter terrorism and International Law
Implications on human rights
Although terrorism does not have a universally accepted definition, it is widely viewed as a violation of human rights especially in terms of liberty, loss of life, eliciting of fear and the impact on the governments and societies.9 The international law acknowledges the human rights with its systems set for the protection of human rights globally on the basis of non discrimination.10 This is demonstrated through the institutions and branches of international law such as international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international human rights law, laws on peace and security and general international law.11 The international laws are set up to protect the human rights of all people without bias. The fact that terrorism is not universally defined makes counter terrorism difficult since nations justify their own reactions to terrorist attacks.12 However, international treaties have come up with definitions for some forms of terrorism whose definition is broad with no complete inclusion of all forms of terrorism.13
It is reasonable that terrorist acts adversely affect victims as it creates bitterness, revenge and negative attitude towards the attackers. The victim nations such as the US during the 9/11 attacks forged revenge attacks as war on terror on Al Qaeda and the other terrorist groups.14 However, the international law acknowledges the need to use counter terrorism actions that are acceptable and prohibits nations from using counter terrorism as an excuse for infringing the rights of the citizens in their state, citizens in the attackers’ nations, refugees, immigrants and other people affected by such counter terrorist acts.15 The international law in dealing with terrorism tries to ensure law centrality by emphasizing on legality governance, advancing a law understanding that is clear to counter terrorism and demonstrating what the law enables and obliges states to take measures with the aim of universal protection of human rights.16 The use of counter terrorism actions of dualist approaches, discrimination in immigration laws, threats to nations termed as terrorists and the misuse of the term terrorism have been opposed by the international law.17 Additionally, the international law is focused on the difference between anti-terrorism and counter terrorism actions through the emphasis on non discriminatory approaches.18
Role of international law in counter terrorism
The international law through its branches does not only seek to protect human rights, but also addresses international crimes. Although the international law focuses on the principles of non-discrimination and universality in human rights, it recognizes the intensity of the war on terror.19 This is illustrated by the fact that terrorism falls in the category of international crime and is liable for judgment. Linden (189) argues that the United Nations relies on the global counter terrorism strategy which addresses “measures for member states both individually and collectively in addressing conditions that lead to the spread of terrorism, preventing and combating terrorism, strengthening capacity for preventing terrorism, protecting human rights and upholding the rule of law.”20 The counter terrorism task force ensures coordination in counter terrorism efforts through working groups. These working groups, according to Sageman (215) include:
“facilitation of the implementation of the strategy, addressing the use of the internet for terrorists’ purposes, focus on extremism and radicalization that facilitate terrorism, protection of human rights, strengthening and protecting vulnerable population targets, highlighting and support of terrorism victims and addressing the financing of terrorism.”21
The fact that there is no universally agreed upon definition of terrorism hinders the definition of counter terrorism. However, the international law utilizes the conventions and treaties on what falls as terrorism for its jurisdiction.22 The international community sets up effective counter terrorism measures that require states to uphold human rights within their jurisdiction.23 It requires its member states to set up measures for preventing terrorism and cooperation through the signing of international counter terrorism treaties. The Security Council seeks to prevent the financing of terrorism, reduce the risks of the terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction, improve cross border information sharing and establish a counter terrorism committee. The international human rights require the protection of refugees even as a counter terrorism acts with no discrimination or exploitation of refugees. The international bodies are faced with limitations due to law prescriptions, pursuit of a legitimate purpose, proportionality, and necessity.24
The counter terrorism efforts of the United Nations is based on cooperation between nations and organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Organization of the Islamic Conference, the European Union, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Council of Europe among others.25 The aspects of increased conventions on counter terrorism are an effort by the United Nations, the need to address failing states due to their potential to harbour terrorists and the increase of capacity for member states.26 In the long term, the international council focuses on the use of education, promoting human rights and the rule of law as well as economic opportunities to address counter terrorism.
Although it is difficult to find a universal definition of terrorism, it is evident that counter terrorism cannot be highly effective without it. It is thus necessary for the Security Council conventions to focus on the need for the definition. The United Nations Security Council aims at protecting universal rights hence the emphasis on peace as a counter terrorist act. This is revealed in its opposition to the use of counter terrorism actions of dualist approaches, discrimination in immigration laws, threats to nations termed as terrorists and the misuse of the term terrorism. The recognition by the international law of the universality of the human rights remains the foundation of its counter terrorism acts. This is evident through the use of international laws on human rights, the rule of law and the protection of refugees. Although it is justifiable for some nations to use anti-terrorism acts as a form of counter terrorism, the repercussions of this to human rights are diverse. The international law in upholding human rights shows that all counter terrorist acts and conventions have to be founded on the universality of human rights. It also encourages the terrorists charged with terrorist acts to be given a chance to justify their acts and explain themselves. The global strategy for counter terrorism has been the mode of counter terrorism efforts by the United Nations.
This paper has focused on the definition of terrorism which is controversial and explained the controversy in the same. It has also reviewed the implications of counter terrorism on human rights with the consideration of the universality and the need for non discrimination in counter terrorism. It has also outlined the role of the United Nations in counter terrorisms through its global counter terrorism strategy and other efforts.
Angstrom, Jan, and Isabelle Duyvesteyn. Rethinking the Nature of War. New York: Routledge Publications, 2005.
Duffy, Helen. The “War on Terror” and the Framework of International Law. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Kaldor, Mary. New and Old Wars. London: Stanford University Press, 2007.
Linden, Edward. Focus on Terrorism (Volume 7). London: Nova Publishers, 2006.
Moeckll, Daniel. Human Rights and Non- Discrimination in the ‘War on Terror.’ New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Naqvi, Yasmin, and Andrea Bianchi. Enforcing International Law norms against terrorism: Volume four of studies in international law. Boston: Hart Publishing, 2004.
Nesi, Giuseppe. International Cooperation in Counter Terrorism: The United Nations and the Regional organizations in the fight against Terrorism. London: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006.
Sageman, Marc. Understanding Terror Networks. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 2004.
Saul, Ben. Defining Terrorism in International Law (Oxford Monographs in International Law). New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Scheuer, Michael. Through our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America. Washington: Brassey’s Inc, 2003.
- Helen Duffy, The “War on Terror” and the Framework of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 23.
- Michael Scheuer, Through our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America (Washington: Brassey’s Inc, 2003) 251.
- Ben Saul, Defining Terrorism in International Law: Oxford Monographs in International Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) 268.
- Saul 145.
- Helen Duffy, The “War on Terror” and the Framework of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 51.
- Jan Angstrom and Isabelle Duyvesteyn, Rethinking the Nature of War (New York: Routledge Publications, 2005) 132.
- Saul 67.
- Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars (London: Stanford University Press, 2007) 32.
- Ben Saul, Defining Terrorism in International Law: Oxford Monographs in International Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) 251.
- Daniel Moeckll, Human Rights and Non- Discrimination in the ‘War on Terror’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) 2.
- Helen Duffy, The “War on Terror” and the Framework of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 77.
- Kaldor 37.
- Jan Angstrom and Isabelle Duyvesteyn, Rethinking the Nature of War (New York: Routledge Publications, 2005) 121.
- Helen Duffy, The “War on Terror” and the Framework of International Law (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005) 2.
- Ben Saul, Defining Terrorism in International Law: Oxford Monographs in International Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) 279.
- Giuseppe Nesi, International Cooperation in Counter Terrorism: the United Nations and the Regional organizations in the fight against Terrorism (London: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006) 279.
- Daniel Moeckll, Human Rights and Non- Discrimination in the ‘War on Terror’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) 32.
- Edward Linden, Focus on Terrorism: Volume 7 (London: Nova Publishers, 2006) 45.
- Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 2004) 98.
- Edward Linden, Focus on Terrorism: Volume 7 (London: Nova Publishers, 2006) 189.
- Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 2004) 215.
- Giuseppe Nesi, International Cooperation in Counter Terrorism: the United Nations and the Regional organizations in the fight against Terrorism (London: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006) 178.
- Michael Scheuer, Through our Enemies’ Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America (Washington: Brassey’s Inc, 2003) 210.
- Yasmin Naqvi and Andrea Bianchi, Enforcing International Law norms against terrorism: Volume four of studies in international law (Boston: Hart Publishing, 2004) 303.
- Giuseppe Nesi, International Cooperation in Counter Terrorism: The United Nations and the Regional organizations in the fight against Terrorism (London: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006) 300.
- Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 2004) 165.