Local Commentaries
3:34 pm
Mon February 22, 2010

Frederick Perry - February 23

Macomb, IL – Terrorism has been around for centuries. Americans are now unfortunately familiar with it.

The first time the word "terrorism" was used was during the French Revolution in the late 1700's when the revolutionary government unleashed a "reign of terror" against its people. Now states have a duty to protect their citizens from terrorist acts. When the Cold War ended, new actors emerged, like Osama bin Laden. Globalization is here, and so are global terrorist networks and global targets.

The whole world has seen terrorist attacks: the Madrid train bombings; the London subway bombings, and so on. The states of the world are now countering the threat.

A few problems have been encountered in combating terrorism under international law. The first is definition. Should it include attacks against property as well as people? Should the motivation of the actors be considered? The United States and the UK call it "the use of violence to coerce or intimidate civilian populations with the aim of affecting government policy."

Another problem is a state's use of force to retaliate.

Lastly the relationship between terrorism and human rights is important. Most terrorist acts are human rights violations, crimes against humanity, or genocide, under the UN Charter and a variety of Human Rights conventions.

Also, there is a legitimate international concern over (1) subjecting entire human groups to suspicion and adverse treatment because of crimes committed by some members of the group and (2) letting the fight against terrorism become a pretext for stifling legitimate opposition or dissent as those things are protected under the first amendment to the US Constitution, for example.

Despite problems, the international community has made significant progress in establishing rules of international law outlawing terrorism.

Before 9/11 there was very little international support for a state's armed attack in response to a terrorist attack. US action against Libya and others was mostly condemned by the international community. But the UN Security Council, in response to the 9/11 bombings, passed a resolution condemning the bombings and authorizing armed response. So international law now appears to authorize armed response even against third countries that willingly harbor or support terrorists. This justified the US invasion of Afghanistan.

There are now many regional treaties dealing with terrorism. The UN General Assembly has issued several declarations condemning terrorism and telling the international community to take action against it. The General Assembly resolutions do not make law.

However the UN has dealt with terrorism comprehensively, setting up an ad hoc committee on terrorism and adopting thirteen international terrorism conventions signed by many states outlawing high jacking, hostage taking, and terrorist bombing, all based on a similar model: the offense is defined; the parties must declare terrorism a crime, covering acts in the state's territory, aboard a ship or aircraft registered there, committed by a national of the state or where a citizen of the state is a victim; and if the offender is present in the state to either prosecute them or extradite them to a state that will prosecute.

So terrorism is a violation of international law and most of the nations of the world recognize this and are obliged to take action against such acts and the actors involved.