The Legal Response of the League of Nations to Terrorism

Posted: 29 Feb 2008

See all articles by Ben Saul

Ben Saul

The University of Sydney Law School

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Terrorism was first confronted as a discrete subject matter of international law by the international community in the mid-1930s, following the assassination of a Yugoslavian king and a French foreign minister by ethnic separatists. The League's attempt to generically define terrorism in an international treaty prefigured many of the legal, political, ideological and rhetorical disputes which plagued the international community's attempts to define terrorism in the 50 years after the Second World War. Although the treaty never entered into force following the dissolution of the League itself, the League's core definition has been highly resilient and has influenced subsequent legal efforts to define terrorism. While the League's 1937 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism is often referred to obliquely in international legal discussions of terrorism, the drafting of the Convention has seldom been intensively analysed. By closely examining its drafting, this article elucidates how the drafters of the Convention agreed on a definition of terrorism, and why they rejected alternative definitions. In doing so, it hopes to refresh and enliven current international debates about definition in the wake of the United Nation's 60th anniversary year, which saw renewed emphasis placed on the quest for definition.

Keywords: terrorism, international law, League of Nations, definition, international criminal court, international crime

Suggested Citation

Saul, Ben, The Legal Response of the League of Nations to Terrorism. Journal of International Criminal Justice, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 78-102, 2006. 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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