International Terrorism in the Contemporary World

By Marius H. Livingston; Lee Bruce Kress et al. | Go to book overview
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The Control of State Terror Through the Application of the International Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict


An empirical perspective must recognize that the practice of extreme coercion and violence to achieve political objectives includes the activities of governments as well as nongovernmental groups. This requires a correspondingly comprehensive juridical conception of public purpose terror activities. 1 While there is no desire to minimize the importance of reducing or eliminating nongovernmental terrorism, the present analysis focuses exclusively upon the international law prohibitions on the use of terror which are applicable in international and internal conflict fact situations.

In armed conflict, states are seeking to implement their political objectives by the systematic and institutionalized use of coercion and violence. Because of the recognition of the urgent necessity to protect noncombatants in conflict situations, attempts have been made since early history to formulate limits in law upon the use of such coercion and violence which would prohibit the use of terror. Because state terror has frequently been carried out through the destruction of human and material values which is not justified by military necessity or which does not advance a lawful military objective, the limitations upon the use of coercion and violence in international conflicts reflect the common interest of states in avoiding violence as an end in itself. The humanitarian law of international conflict (traditionally termed “the law of war”) has been used by states to impose restrictions of degree and kind upon its use.

One of the principal purposes of the humanitarian law is to protect noncombatants, or civilians, from the more destructive consequences of armed conflict. Civilians are usually defined as individuals who are not members of the armed forces and who do not participate in military operations. Civilians who need protection from terror in international conflict situations fall into two categories: enemy civilians who are under the direct control of, or “in the hands of, a state of which they are not nationals, or are living under military occupation; and civilians who are living in territory which, while not


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