Saturday, February 16, 2008

Terrorism-- crime against humanity

Recently there has been much scholarly discussion about the international law definition of terrorism and exceptions to it. While understanding the complexity of possible exceptions and exemptions, I have no difficulty of defining terrorism as a crime against humanity. And a crime against humanity is defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. I do not feel the need for another separate definition for an act of terror. I understand the scholars' concerns about the abuse of the term to include also acts of political dissidence or claims for self-determination. Guerrilla warfare used as a tool to defend one's country against 'occupiers' potentially is exempt. For example, I do not think the Palestinians fighting for their land or seeking self-determination are 'terrorists.' It would be absurd to claim that. But who is the target? That is the question. Essentially an act of terror is violence against civilians, not armed forces, therefore it is a crime against the whole humanity, not a particular nation. For example, the 9-11 was a crime against humanity and that is the reason that the whole world not only the US was shaken by it. The difficulty arises when during an armed conflict civilians also die because of deliberate lack of differentiation. How do you then draw the line? During the Lebanon-Israeli crisis last year the Human Rights Watch was disturbed by Israel's lack of differentiation resulting in many civilian deaths on the Lebanese side. Is that an act of terror or an unhappy by-product of war/armed conflict? After all, we all know that war means deaths not only of armed soldiers but unfortunately and most dreadfully of innocent civilians. The 9-11 and Benazir Bhutto's killing were classic acts of terror but other events are really harder to pin down. My issue is not how to define terrorism, but how to classify certain events under its column (related issues). Another problem is how to attribute terror acts to states? When certain states covertly assist various terrorist organizations by sponsoring, financing, giving them refuge on their territories, aren't they also responsible? But then isn't that a dangerous road to take? Then we would authorize ourselves to attack these states in 'preemptive self-defense'. How reasonable is that? Is that right? Should innocent civilians pay the heavy price of acts done by certain criminals?

Now another challenge is to find an appropriate international criminal forum for trying individuals/groups charged with this crime. Similar to ICTY and ICTR we need an impartial tribunal to try these folks. Then we would eliminate the whole problem/unlawfulness of Guantanamo-like detentions. I think we already have such a tribunal-- the ICC. The only problem is to convince the United States that ICC should be the appropriate place for trying these individuals. The next step for the United States is to ratify the Rome Statute and deliver these detainees to the Hague...

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