Prosecuting Terrorism in International Tribunals
Johan Van der Vyver
Emory University School of Law
January 24, 2010
Emory International Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 2, 2010
Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 11-175
Terrorism can be defined as acts of violence directed against a civilian population or civilian objects for the purpose of spreading terror among civilians and with a view to intimidating persons in authority to submit to the demands of the perpetrators. Terrorism has been condemned by the international community and has indeed been recognized as a crime under customary international law. However, there are still those who believe that persons engaged in a war of liberation — that is, an armed struggle against colonial rule, foreign domination, or a racist regime — are entitled to resort to acts of terror in order to achieve their “noble objectives”, but following September 11th, that view has been discredited in several resolutions of the General Assembly on the United Nations and of the Security Council.
Terrorism is not included in the subject-matter jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) but can be prosecuted in the ICC as an added component of war crimes such as directing an attack against individual civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities. Terrorism is also not expressly included in the subject-matter jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) but has been prosecuted in the ICTY under provisions in the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 which prohibit acts of violence directed against civilians for the purpose of spreading terror in the civilian population. It should be noted, though, that terrorism does not only require the special intent to spread terror among the civilian population but also the further special intent of intimidating persons in authority to give in to the demands of the terrorists.
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Date posted: October 14, 2011 ; Last revised: June 6, 2012