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809100395 GOVT 2062 Former British Defence Secretary John Reid has called for a re-examination of the rules of war. In particular he asked whether the Geneva Conventions on Humanitarian Law are adequate in an age of international terrorism. Discuss.

The September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States have provoked the most heated debates of the 21st century and as a temporal benchmark (Buzan and Hansen 226) have led many security analysts to define a new era in international security (51). The reactions which followed revealed the ineptitude of the West to address emergent concerns about terrorism that did not fit easily into any of the obvious categories of international law (Greenwood 304). It is a fact that the 1949 Geneva Conventions did not contemplate the type of enemy which is now extant 1 (qtd. in Sengupta) and are, therefore, unable to effectively guide the international communitys counter-terrorism mission. However, such a statement provokes several other considerations. Today, the question of whether a simple re-examination of the traditional rules of war can provide satisfactory coherence to the War on Terror is relevant. The failure of the international community to produce a viable response to concerns that are almost a decade long presents another challenge. It is also necessary to highlight the course of action which the international community must consider to address accumulating concerns in the age of international terrorism. The 1949 Geneva Conventions emerged in response to armed conflicts between more-or-less evenly matched armies of uniformed soldiers from opposing states (De Nevers, The Geneva Conventions and New Wars 369). Although there are records of terror being used as a tactic in such traditional warfare, international terrorism presents a deviation from the norms of traditional warfare. The term War on Terror2 has proven to be misleading. Since there is as yet no internationally agreed definition of terrorism (Guillaume 540) if there is a war it is an imprecise one that is being fought outside the boundaries of the traditional rules of war and might continue in perpetuity [since] it is
1

In 2006 former British Defense Secretary, John Reid, made this statement when he called for an overhaul of the 1949 Geneva Conventions in order to counter what he termed barbaric terrorism.
2

The term was coined in the aftermath of September 11 by the then U.S. President George W. Bush. Since 2001, there have been major terrorist attacks in Bali, Madrid and London as well as several other foiled terrorist plots.

unclear who is authorized to declare it over (Hoffman 940). Since September 11, the Western media and intelligence services have primarily equated terrorism with Al Qaeda 3 and the Taliban regime that controls parts of Afghanistan. This contrived focus has detracted from a threat that is new and different, complex and diverse, dynamic and protean and profoundly difficult to characterize (Burke 1). Since 2001 the United States has sought to re-examine the Geneva Conventions in order to determine the status of detained Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. 4 The outcome has been a political and legal quandary that has produced several controversial and ambivalent decisions. Several prominent legal minds (most notably in the United States) have since continued to re-examine the Geneva Conventions with the aim of providing a stable legal framework within which issues relating to terrorism can be satisfactorily addressed. However, such re-examination has been impeded by a host of historical, conceptual, structural and political forces (Luck 96). It has failed to encapsulate the terrorist threat or expound on measures to deal with terrorists. Gilbert Guillaume has argued that international law is not as ill-prepared as it is believed to be in the area of humanitarian law and human rights pertaining to terrorism (548). While this may seem plausible given the collation of humanitarian law that has been overseen by the United Nations (UN) since 1945, there remain deficiencies which leave room for violations.5 The UN has made contributions to the expansion of international norms against terrorism over the last 40 years but a stable legal architecture remains elusive (Luck 99). The inability of member states to agree on a definition of what constitutes terrorism has complicated the process (101). The fact that the most vulnerable states are also the most powerful also remains a challenge since irreconcilable policy opinions often emerge. Additionally, the sense of urgency produced by the terrorist threat resonates more deeply in the states that
3

According to journalist and author, Jason Burke, Al Qaeda has been erroneously portrayed by the Western media since there is really no cohesive and structured terrorist organization called Al Qaeda. See Burke 1-21.
4

After legal deliberation on Article 4A (2) of Geneva Convention No. III, which lists the categories of persons captured by the enemy who are entitled to prisoners of war (POW) status, the Bush administration determined that Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were not entitled to POW status but were to be treated in accordance with accepted human rights law.
5

After evidence of abuse emerged at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004, calls for the updating of the Geneva Conventions were renewed.

have been directly targeted. However, if the international community is unable to produce the political will to apply the needed pressure to forge a co-ordinated response to terrorism, the Geneva Conventions will continue to be futilely criticised. Ultimately, the international community needs to agree on a comprehensive Convention on Terrorism.6 There is a limit on the extent to which the 1949 Geneva Conventions can be re-examined and re-interpreted. Attempts to delineate the human rights of terrorists using the vocabulary of the Geneva Conventions will not succeed indefinitely. When John Reid called for a re-examination of Humanitarian Law, he was not particularly interested in the human rights of terrorists but in the legal constraints...set against an enemy that adheres to no constraints whatsoever (qtd. in Sengupta). His frustration is understandable in a climate imbued with realist fear and suspicion since September 11 but it is important to recall that the human rights framework has been forged out of the experiences of the devastation societies suffered when human rights were exchanged too easily (Hoffman 950). Furthermore, such a narrow focus will not yield a solution that encompasses all the concerns associated with terrorism such as state-sponsored terrorism, cyber terrorism, and the effect of counter-terrorism strategies on privacy. If domestic policy continues to set the precedence in these matters and international law continues to be interpreted in pieces, the diversity of terrorism will not be sufficiently addressed and new antagonisms are likely to be created in an already volatile world. When Henri Dunant made the first efforts to create what would become the 1949 Geneva Conventions the prevailing concern was the nature of inter-state war that had evolved in Europe, from the Napoleonic Wars to World War II (De Nevers, The Geneva Conventions and New Wars 371). Terrorism is one example in a continuum of conflicts that exist today which cannot be encapsulated by the traditional rules of war (De Nevers, Modernizing the Geneva Conventions 111). The application of various pieces of international law to international terrorism may have sufficed thus far but the future will likely contain greater debates on the inadequacy of such an approach. In attempting to remould the
6

According to the official website of the United Nations, a comprehensive convention on international terrorism is currently being elaborated. In 2006, a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism was proposed by India to address gaps in sectoral conventions on terror.

Geneva Conventions to fit the needs of counter-terrorism strategies, the risk of creating further legal confusion remains. An original set of rules is needed to articulate and address international terrorism. WORKS CITED Burke, Jason. Al Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam. London: Penguin Books. 2004. Print. Buzan, Barry and Lene Hansen. The Evolution of International Security Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print. De Nevers, Renee. The Geneva Conventions and New Wars. Political Science Quarterly. 121.3 (2006) : 369-395. Ebsco Host. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. ---. Modernizing the Geneva Conventions. The Washington Quarterly. 29.2 (2006) : 99-113. Ebsco Host. Web. 01 Nov. 2010. Greenwood, Christopher. International Law and the War against Terrorism. International Affairs. 78.2 (2002) : 301-317. JSTOR. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. Guillaume, Gilbert. Terrorism and International Law. The International and Comparative Law Quarterly. 53.3 (2004) : 537-548. JSTOR. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. Hoffman, Paul. Human Rights and Terrorism. Human Rights Quarterly. 26.4 (2004) : 932-955. JSTOR. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. Luck, Edward C. Another Reluctant Belligerent: The United Nations and the War on Terrorism. The United Nations and Global Security. Ed. Richard M. Price and Mark W. Zacher. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 95-108. Print. Sengupta, Kim. Geneva Conventions should be updated. The Independent. 04 April 2006. Web. 12 Oct. 2010.