argument top image

Can terrorism ever be justified?
Back to question

Terrorism violates the basic human rights of its victims

Terrorism, by definition, constitutes a violation of the most basic human rights, such as the right to life and liberty. Therefore, it is never possible to justify terrorism on any grounds.

The Argument

Terrorism constitutes a threat to the enjoyment of human rights, regardless of whether the victims were guilty or responsible for the oppression of the people engaging in terrorism.[1] This very fact can be found in a United Nations resolution where terrorism is defined as “activities aimed at the destruction of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democracy…”.[2] As human rights thinking and jurisprudence have evolved, not only states but also non-state actors such as rebel groups or multi-national corporations can be held responsible for human rights violations. For example, al Qaeda falls into this category as an organization. Its terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, was condemned by the United Nations as a “horrific violation of human rights."[3] The above-mentioned human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and many more. These fundamental rights are ensured through various legal documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.[4] Considering that terrorist acts include deliberate killings, torture, and abduction, terrorism violates all of the rights mentioned above. Some terrorist acts can even violate the right to education. For example, terrorism threatens education in Afganistan. Taliban closed or burned many schools, and many teachers died during the attacks.[5] Overall, terrorism is never justified because it violates the human rights of its victims.

Counter arguments

The classical interpretation of human rights argues that only states can violate human rights. Human rights treaties bind only states and not individuals, non-state actors like rebel groups or others since the signatories are only states. Many states support this view. For instance, the Argentinian Government has stated the following in one of their United Nations submissions: “The Government does not accept the argument that the acts of international terrorism constitute a human rights violation, since, by definition, only states are capable of violating human rights.” Official statements by governments are not enough to create international human rights obligations for terrorists. Additionally, human rights obligations for terrorists may allow states to use the fight against terrorism as an excuse to violate human rights themselves.[6] While terrorist groups may engage in human trafficking and organized crime, which violate human rights to support their activities, the main aim of their existence is usually not to engage in these crimes. In cases where terrorism functions as the weapon of the weak (such as for the Kurds in Iraq), the human rights violations are justifiable. In fact, terrorism occurs mainly in states where there are gross human rights violations. If a civilian population is at risk because of brutal state behavior, terrorism can be used to ensure the human rights of the oppressed population. For example, the Constitutive Act of the African Union goes further to provide for the right of intervention (through acts of violence) in case of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.[3]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Thursday, 19 Nov 2020 at 22:40 UTC

Explore related arguments