Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
Chapter 1: The definition(s) of terrorism in international law
As with many other words or concepts, ‘terrorism’ may be used in many ways, or for many purposes. In conflict situations, for instance, it may be an evocative tool apt to disqualify the adversary’s side, be it an individual, a private organization, an insurgent group, a movement of national liberation, a state or a group of states. Moreover, the history of great social and political changes in many countries and regions shows how the ‘terrorist’ of yesterday may change into the national hero of today, and how the founding father (or the enlightened revolutionary) of yesterday may become the terrorist or the criminal of today. What will be investigated here is not the label ‘terrorism’ as used in the political arena, but its legal dimension, with special regard to international law and with some references to comparative law. The emphasis is placed on the special consequences of derogating from a supposedly general framework applicable to violent activities.