Law Relating To Freedom Movements And Terrorism

Author:Mr Aftab Ahmad Khan
Profession:Surridge & Beecheno

Presented at the Pakistan Supreme Court International Law Conference on "Peace Through Law" held at Islamabad on 29-31 Mach 2002

  1. The world has witnessed Freedom movements through centuries, but the one that made a mark on history is the Americans war of independence against British initiated during the year 1770 by throwing tea chests off-board the ships in sea at the Boston harbor, resulting in violence, political resistance and war between the British and the American colonists, finally, getting America its independence from the British occupation. Since then and particularly after the first and second world wars number of freedom movements took place in various parts of the world, resulting in creation of number of independent States, in Africa, Middle East and South East Asia from occupation by British, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish Empires. Similarly, after the fall of Soviet Empire again through freedom movements number of countries have emerged as independent countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but none of these freedom movements was classified as terrorism. The Northern Ireland violent freedom movement from Britain both within Northern Ireland and also in Britain has been going on for almost half a century. Those responsible for freedom movement adopted militant and guerilla action wherever possible, yet at no point of time were the movements or actions on the part of IRA classified as terrorism, nor did the British Government declare a war or take military action against Northern Ireland.

    There does not appear to be any specific law relating to freedom movements. However, the United Nation Charter states one of its purposes is to promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedom for all. To my mind, this should include freedom struggle against colonial occupation of people, or racist or repressive regimes violating human rights on the basis of race, language or religion.

    In this respect one can rely on the United Nation General Assembly agreement of 1973 on the legal status of combatants struggling against colonial and racist regimes for the right to self-determination. The principles agreed are:-

    i) such struggles are legitimate and in full accord with the principles of international law;

    ii) attempts to suppress struggle against colonial and racist regimes are incompatible with United Nation Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to colonial countries and people as well as with the principles of international law concerning friendly cooperation amongst States.

    The 1948 United Nation Assembly's adoption and proclamation of universal declaration of human rights can also be relied upon, which recognizes inalienable rights of freedom to all human beings.

    The world has witnessed a change since the 11th September attack on World Trade Center and Pentagon and freedom movements are likely to suffer being labeled and dealt with as terrorism.

  2. Terrorism is older than the word itself, which has roots in the "Reign of Terror" during the French Revolution. The practice of threatening, injuring or killing innocent people for political, religious or other ideological reasons goes back to at least Biblical...

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