The possibility of establishing an International Court against Terrorism is not entirely new, and has been addressed by scholars. However, the idea has recently regained momentum as a result of a joint Romanian-Spanish initiative (summarised here). In a recent event held at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut organised by the authors of this post, this possibility was thoroughly discussed. While indubitably commendable on the political level, such effort will face some very challenging legal issues. The aim of this post is to give a succinct account of these issues.
To begin with, a Special Court against Terrorism (SCT) will be confronted with a major question concerning its jurisdiction ratione materiae. What are the acts that would fall under its jurisdiction? What are the constitutive elements of a terrorist act subject to the SCT’s jurisdiction? Indeed, this issue is connected with a vexed question of international law, namely the definition of terrorism. As is well known, there is no generally accepted definition of terrorism under general international law. The perpetration of terrorist acts during wartime is (at least in part) covered by the law of armed conflict. Those acts may amount to war crimes in case of serious violations of international humanitarian law. The rules applicable to terrorist acts perpetrated in times of peace are more uncertain. The numerous UN conventions on terrorism only apply if the conduct in question falls under the relevant sector covered (e.g. nuclear terrorism).