Definition of 'Terrorism' in the UN Security Council: 1985-2004

31 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2008

See all articles by Ben Saul

Ben Saul

The University of Sydney Law School


International debate about the problems of defining terrorism historically centred on the General Assembly. Yet, between 1985 and 2001, the Security Council adopted a range of measures addressing terrorist threats to peace and security, and analysis of the incidents involved reveals much about the Council's understanding of "terrorism". After September 2001, problems of definition became acute, since the Council adopted general legislative measures against terrorism - with serious legal consequences - without defining it. The Council has encouraged States to unilaterally define terrorism in national law, permitting wide and divergent definitions. A non-binding Council definition of late 2004 fails to remedy the serious difficulties caused by the lack of an operative definition in Council practice.

Keywords: definition, terrorism, international law, United Nations, Security Council

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K33

Suggested Citation

Saul, Ben, Definition of 'Terrorism' in the UN Security Council: 1985-2004. Chinese Journal of International Law, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 141-166, 2005; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/111. Available at SSRN:

Ben Saul (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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