Terrorism and Public Health: A Balanced Approach to Strengthening Systems and Protecting People

By Barry S. Levy; Victor W. Sidel | Go to book overview
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19
Promoting international law

PETER WEISS

“Terror—it's all in the eyes of the beholder.” Thus reads the headline of a news feature in the mainstream Israeli newspaper Haaretz.1And by way of exposition, it asks in the subhead, “Why is the attack on the Twin Towers called terrorism, while the bombing of a hospital in Kabul is not?”

The question, in infinite guises, has plagued international lawyers for over a century. It poses not only the dilemma of state terrorism versus terrorism by non-state actors, but also the question of whether a distinction should be drawn between violence in pursuit of a just cause and an unjust one. One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter, in the words of the hoary cliché (see Chapter 1).

As a result, there is currently no generally agreed-upon definition of terrorismin international law. There are a number of conventions that deal with terrorist acts such as hijacking and hostage-taking, without, however, defining terrorism. Diplomats have had to make do with formulations like that of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the United Nations, in his post–September 11 speech to the General Assembly: “What looks, smells and kills like terrorism is terrorism.” Ironically, a proposal by the 119-member Non-Aligned Movement for a major United Nations conference to be held for the purpose of drafting a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism was sidetracked by the events of September 11, as well as by the

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