Call for papers: terror/counterterror

Terrorism as a phenomenon is not limited to any one part of the world. It is a global phenomenon that, although it can occur in both wartime and peacetime, is often linked to armed conflict.

There is no universal definition of “terrorism” under international law, although there are sectoral/regional treaties and acts of national legislation criminalizing acts considered terrorism that provide definitions applicable in certain contexts. While not defining terrorism, IHL is not silent on the issue. In situations of armed conflict, it prohibits most acts that are criminalized as “terrorist” acts in domestic legislation and international conventions specifically addressing terrorism.  International humanitarian law (IHL) notably prohibits acts or threats whose primary purpose is to spread terror among the civilian population. IHL also prohibits the underlying acts of attacks targeting the civilian population in both international and non-international armed conflicts.

While terrorist attacks in the “Western” world have declined in recent years, the risk remains high. The rise of nationalism highlights the fact that attacks can come from a variety of perpetrators, including far-right extremists. Elsewhere, notably in Central Asia and West Africa, there has been a growth in attacks.  

In response to the threat of terrorist attacks, States, regional organizations and the United Nations have undertaken numerous measures aimed at those that perpetrate them. While pursuing the legitimate aim of ensuring State security, counterterrorism measures can have a considerable impact on whether and how States see and fulfil their obligations under IHL. In other words, States must maintain the safeguards protecting human life and dignity laid down in the applicable rules of IHL and international human rights law. This includes the rules governing the conduct of hostilities against organized non-State armed groups, the protection of civilians living in territories controlled by such groups and the right of those civilians to impartial and neutral humanitarian and medical assistance.

Another phenomenon is the rise of the “foreign fighter” in international discourse. The concept of “foreign fighter” is not a term of art of IHL, but how do IHL principles and rules apply to these belligerents?

Today, the impact of counterterrorism measures on principled humanitarian action, in particular potential criminalization of humanitarian activities remains an issue of concern. The designation of a non-State armed group as “terrorist” means that it is likely to be included in lists of proscribed terrorist organizations maintained by the UN, regional organizations and States. The prohibition of unqualified acts of “material support,” “services” and “assistance to” or “association with” terrorist organizations found in certain criminal laws could, in practice, result in the criminalization of the core activities of humanitarian organizations and their personnel. The potential criminalization of humanitarian engagement with non-State armed groups designated as “terrorist organizations” may reflect a non-acceptance of the notion of neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action.

This issue of the Review will explore these issues and others. Authors are invited to send submissions to the Review’s editorial team, preferable in the form of a word document, at review@icrc.org. The deadline for submissions is 30 June 2020.

Additional guidelines for authors are available for reference.