The Phenomenon of Terrorist Political Parties and Countermeasures for Their Suppression
in: Engelhart, M., & Roksandić Vidlička, S. (Eds.), Dealing with Terrorism: Empirical and Normative Challenges of Fighting the Islamic State. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 236-254 (2019)
19 Pages Posted: 29 Aug 2019
Date Written: 2019
In the early 1990s, Leonard Weinberg wrote the first and foremost article about the conditions under which political parties turn to terrorist activities. He argued that the links between terrorist groups and political parties have become common, often affecting each other’s appearances and disappearances. There are many examples of such links. Political parties labelled as terrorist include the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is linked to Kurdish militant separatism, as well as radical Islamist political parties linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). ISIS itself could be considered a terrorist political party seeking to establish a pan-Islamic state. Donetsk Republic is another proto-state political party, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the Ukrainian authorities. In China, Uyghur jihadists have established a terrorist organization called Turkistan Islamic Party aimed at seeking the independence of East Turkestan. Some terrorist political parties have been dissolved, such as Batasuna and its successors, which served as political wings of the recently dissolved Basque terrorist organization ETA. Other parties continue to exist after renouncing their terrorist activity, such as Sinn Féin, an Irish political party historically associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
Bringing political parties to court in order to determine their liability for terrorism is a feature of the contemporary judicialization of politics. This tendency has direct implications for the constitutional division of powers, which is the most plausible reason why, in many countries, it appears inconceivable to attribute criminal liability to political parties. Countries have introduced or maintained various legal obstacles to the prosecution or conviction of political parties, and most law enforcement bodies are unwilling to undertake criminal procedures and hold political parties criminally liable. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights clearly indicates that neither criminal prosecutions nor alternative sanctions on terrorist political parties, including party bans, would be incompatible with human rights standards.
But when it comes to terrorist political parties, jurisdictions worldwide find a way to impose sanctions. Listings of political parties as terrorist organizations spark controversy as such procedures are the result of government decisions rather than the outcome of court proceedings. To avoid this, international criminal law should follow the Nuremberg precedent and include the liability of terrorist political parties.
Having political parties on trial is not always an ideal solution either. Various controversies linked to political trials throughout history have demonstrated the need for restrictions on the criminal responsibility of political parties in political settings where criminal proceedings risk being instrumentalized in confrontations with the opposition parties. Therefore, it is necessary to strike an adequate balance between the interests of justice and the need of preserving a functioning democratic system. Having evaluated different models of criminal liability of political parties, we can conclude that each model has its advantages and disadvantages. It is an illusion to think that there is one model that fits all situations, because it also depends on the political system, the legal tradition (common law vs. civil law), the type of terrorist activity, and many other circumstances. After all, one man’s terrorist organization is another man’s freedom party.
Keywords: terrorism, political parties, terrorist organisations, party bans, political crime, freedom of association
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