Language matters: What is terrorism?

Academic and terrorism researcher David Tucker once wrote: “Above the gates of hell is the warning that all that enter should abandon hope. Less dire but to the same effect is the warning given to those who try to define terrorism.”[1] Today, his words still aptly describe the continuing search by states and international bodies for a definition of terrorism.

A search for consensus

The United Nations (UN) has made several attempts to provide a general definition of terrorism, in contrast to describing specific acts of terrorism. It had a degree of success in the 1990s, with some progress made towards a general definition. In 1994 the non-binding ‘Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism,’ endorsed by the UN General Assembly, defined terrorism as  “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes.”

This was followed by a 1996 General Assembly Resolution 51/210, which established an ad hoc Committee to find a Draft Comprehensive Convention. However, when the Committee presented its report, the proposed definition was met with controversy and disquiet in the ad hoc Committee.

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Language Matters: What is Persecution?

Crimes against humanity are one of four atrocity crimes defined in international law.[1] The first prosecution for crimes against humanity happened after the Second World War. It was underpinned by the belief that certain crimes are an affront to the very conscience of mankind.  The international community sought to ensure there would be no impunity for crimes that violate the essence of human dignity.

One of them is the crime of persecution.

Persecution – a crime against humanity.

Jurisprudence on crimes against humanity was developed by two ad hoc tribunals created by the United Nations Security Council: the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

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