Omission of state terrorism in national and international norms and political practices

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As stated in the previous paragraph, the attempt to define or to describe terrorism in General Assembly Resolution 42/159 omits state terrorism. Neither international conventions previous to the 11th September nor international, regional and national norms previous and following the 11th September refer to it. It is not taken into account neither in policies of national states nor in those of regional and international intergovernmental organizations, although the United Nations General Assembly has condemned State terrorism more than once. For instance, on the 18th December 1972, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 3034 (XXVII) that recognizes in paragraphs 3 and 4 the right of peoples to fight for their liberation and condemns colonial, racist and alien regimes.[1]


On the 17th December 1984, the General Assembly in Resolution 39/159 on “Inadmissibility of the policy of State terrorism and any actions by States aimed at undermining the socio-political system in other sovereign States”, urged:

“all States not to take any action aimed at any military intervention and occupation, to force changes in the socio-political system of other States or to undermine it, or to destabilize and overthrow their governments…” (art.2)

At the beginning of the 90s, the United Nations International Law Commission, tried to include State terrorism in its Draft Code of crimes against humanity and it even approved in first reading an article with the incrimination of State international terrorism. But in the end, there was no agreement in the core of the Commission and the article disappeared from the Draft.[2]

Legal norms should also deal with State terrorism, since, all things considered, such norms establish rules not only for persons but also for the states, as for instance the respect of human rights. And state terrorism is, doubtlessly, a grave violation of human rights.

This important absence in national and international counter terrorist norms and policies could be defined as follows:

“State terrorism is a state policy planned and implemented with the aim to combat with illegal means social struggles, to paralyse or destroy the political or ideological opposition and/or annihilate armed opposition and/or with the aim to justify the suspension of constitutional guaranties, the establishment of states of emergency and violation of human rights. The internationalization of  terrorism consist, inter alia, of sending agents to other countries in order to commit crimes, giving logistical support to terrorist acts in other countries, giving support to the assassination of foreign dignitaries and terrorize the civil population with air indiscriminate attacks”.[3]

C. The indispensable distinction between terrorism and national and social liberation struggles

It is indispensable not to mix up terrorism and “the recourse to rebellion against tyranny and oppression”, as stated in paragraph third of the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In this sense, paragraph 14 of the above mentioned 1987 General Assembly Resolution 42/159 is very important. This paragraph makes a clear distinction between terrorism and the struggle for national liberation, freedom and independence of peoples subjugated to racist regimes, to alien occupation or to other forms of colonial domination and the right of such peoples to seek and receive support.

Other General Assembly resolutions, among which the already mentioned 3034 (XXVII) of 1972 , recognize the right of peoples to fight for their liberation.[4]

Wars of national liberation are also included in article 1, subsection 4 of 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions,[5] as they are considered as international conflicts and parties to them must respect Humanitarian International Law. Similarly, dissident armed groups inside a State are recognized in article 1, paragraph 1 of Protocol II, as far as they have a command in charge, and they control part of the territory, what allows them to carry out continue and arrange military operations and apply the Protocol.



Note: Définition du terrorisme donnée par Teilelbaum et Özden (haut page 4 de la brochure):

Terrorism could be provisionally defined as an action or series of violent actions directed to provoke, with a determined aim, a generalized feeling of fear, panic or terror, its targets being, most of the times, indiscriminately or ar­bitrarily chosen people and places.

Such feelings of fear, panic or terror can rouse the victim(s) instinctive re­actions of self-defence, neutralize their will and even deprive them totally of and/or critical sense.

[1]    Resolution 3034 (XXVII), para. 3 and 4: “Reaffirms the inalienable right to self-determination and independence of all peoples under colonial and racist regimes and other forms of alien dom­ination and upholds the legitimacy of their struggle, in particular the struggle of national libera­tion movements, in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter and the relevant resolutions of the organs of the United Nations. 4. Condemns the continuation of repressive and terrorist acts by colonial, racist and alien regimes in denying peoples their legitimate right to self-determination and independence and other human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

[2]    Report of the International Law Commission (1995). General Assembly, Supplement Nº 10 (A/50/10) par. 105 and foll,

[3]    See American Congress, Church Commission, “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, An Interim Report”, U.S. Government Printing Office, November 18 1975. See also The CIA's Nicaragua Manual, Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare, Vintage Books, Random House, New York, 1985. The Church Report refers to attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and the assassinations, among others, of Chilean General René Schneider in 1970 and of the Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba., on the 17th January 1961, less than six months after being elected as prime minister. In a documentary broadcasted by French-German TV channel ARTE on the 3rd October 2007 (Cuba, una odisea africana), Lawrence (Larry) Devlin, CIA's head mission in Congo can be seen and heard at the time where the facts took place, saying that the order to kill Lumumba would have been given personally by President Eisenhower. Moreover, inter alia, killings of Juan José Torres, former president of Bolivia, in Buenos Aires in 1976, and Orlando Letelier, former Minister of Salvador Allende, in Washington in 1976. At the end of June 2007, some CIA's documents were disqualyfied, though they had many cross­ing-outs. They reveal, inter alia, that in September 1960 the CIA was in negotiations with some Miami Mafia men to kill Fidel Castro. Terrorist attacks committed since long ago in Cuba with the logistical support of the United States and Nicaragua in the 80s are renown. These facts were the object of a sentence by the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the 27th June 1986: Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America): “The United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State”.

[4]    See footnote 2.

[5]    “The situations referred to in the preceding paragraph include armed conflicts in which peoples are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination, as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”