Sunday, October 21, 2007

Defining Terrorism

Here's a brilliant quote from Martin Scheinin, the UN Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. The quote is from the Rapporteur's report to the Commission on Human Rights in 2006, where Scheinin argues for a comprehensive definition of the term 'terrorism.'
"Arising from the need for precision, and to avoid use of the fight against terrorism as an excuse to unnecessarily extend the reach of criminal law, it is essential that offences created under counter-terrorist legislation, along with any associated powers of investigation or prosecution, be limited to countering terrorism. Crimes not having the quality of terrorism..., regardless of how serious, should not be the subject of counter-terrorist legislation. Nor should conduct that does not bear the quality of terrorism be the subject of counter-terrorism measures, even if undertaken by a person also suspected of terrorist crimes.
Scheinin's argument stands in contrast to those who argue against a comprehensive definition, such as Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British Ambassador the the UN, who in a speech in 2001 made this somewhat naive (perhaps mischievous) statement:
"Increasingly, question are being raised about the problem of the definition of a terrorist. Let us be wise and focused about this: terrorism is terrorism... What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism."
Considering the way anti-terror legislation has been used in Britain to extent the scope of criminal law and the general misuse of the term terrorism for political gain, it is vital that terrorism should be clearly defined. Scheinin, drawing on international conventions relating to terrorism and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004), argues for following cumulative definition of terrorism, as acts:
(a)...causing death or serious bodily injury, or the taking of hostages; and

(b)... committed for the purpose of provoking a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidating a population, or compelling a Government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act; and

(c) Such acts constituting offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.


At 23 October, 2007 13:20, Anonymous Charles said...

Torsten, I heartily agree that there needs to be a defining of terrorism. It would be easy to view any type of aggressive action as terrorism, or even anti-government behavior as such if it were not clearly defined within the scope of the "war on terror".

Unfortunately, I believe terrorism is a hard thing to define. The use of terror does not begin or end with Muslim extremism/jihadism/islamo-fascism - whatever the popular term is currently is.

Regardless, it is something that should be clearly defined, as difficult as that may be.


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