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Home Articles posted by Kai Ambos, Ezequiel Malarino, Christian Steiner, and Juliana Pavia

Some Reflections on the Legal Treatment of Terrorism: Marking the 11th Seminar of the Latin American Study Group on International Criminal Law

At its last seminar, which took place in Lima from 27 to 29 October 2014, the Latin American Study Group on International Criminal Law (Link KAS/Link CEDPAL) discussed the complex phenomenon of terrorism in its Latin American context. Taking group members’ presentations as its starting point, the debate focused on how this phenomenon is being dealt with in some Latin American states and the transnational and international issues arising in consequence. The following main problems were identified: the lack of conceptual clarity in the definition of terrorism as a criminal offence, the flexibilisation of the principle of legality, the disproportionality of punishments, forms of procedure that seem dubious from the perspective of the rule of law, and a populist, warlike discourse (“guerra al terrorismo”). The most important conclusions were included in the so-called Declaration of Lima, which is printed at the end of this brief report.

Over and above aspects of criminal law in a narrower sense, the fight against terrorism challenges states from a criminological and socioeconomic point of view, as well as from the perspective of criminal policy. Furthermore, the political populist discourse on terrorism has influenced the way terrorism is treated in criminal law. This topic’s complexity starts with the lack of conceptual and terminological clarity concerning what is actually to be understood as terrorism and accordingly what is to be prosecuted and punished. The lack of a definition of terrorism that has been mutually agreed upon at an international level has led to (the possibility of) very different acts – ranging from social protest to the undifferentiated use of weapons of great destructive power – being called terrorist.

In the Declaration of Lima, the study group explicitly acknowledges that terrorism is a serious crime; however, this does not free the states in question from their obligation to observe the boundaries set by the rule of law. This is why it is necessary to create a very precise legal definition of the relevant punishable conduct and observe the principle of proportionality when determining the extent of the punishment and the concrete sanction to be applied. Furthermore, no special jurisidiction may be created. In addition, the principles and rules of fair trial under the rule of law must apply in the same way they do to other criminal offences. Read the rest of this entry…