Basically, this article highlights the limits of international humanitarian law and how it addresses the problem of terrorism. International humanitarian law (jus in bello) defines terrorism as any act of violence against one or more of six targets.
These involve attacks on civilians/civilian objects, the taking of hostages, indiscriminate attacks, attacks on places of worship, attacks on individuals not directly involved in hostilities, and attacks on vital civilian institutions (e.g. dams or nuclear electricity stations). Additionally, acts of perfidy against military forces are also considered terrorist acts. In light of international humanitarian law, however, terrorism is defined as the targeting of non-combatants in any conflict.
Meanwhile, jus ad bellum is the law that regulates the use of force in international relations. Together, both jus in bello and jus ad bellum constitute the international laws of armed conflict. These laws do not attempt to address the legitimacy of violence; they merely aim to mitigate the effects of war. The main purpose is to protect non-combatants, POWs, the wounded, and the sick in any military conflict.
It must be noted that acts of violence against legitimate military forces that incidentally cause terror among the civilian population are not considered terrorist acts. Parts of both the Hague and Geneva laws provide protections for non-combatants. Despite this, there is great controversy as to what can be defined as a just war. Terrorists invariably consider non-combatants fair targets; they reject the concept of neutrality or innocence.
The article also addresses the concept of war crimes as terrorist acts. It discusses World War Two war crimes (e.g. acts of atrocity committed by the Tokkei-tai, the Japanese Naval police, against civilians) and modern international war crimes (e.g. Bosnian atrocities during the 1990s). In each instance, international courts regarded as terrorism any violence that could not be strictly classified as part of a legitimate military offensive.
The author contends that the laws of armed conflict should continue to be a reference in international courts of law. He argues that international humanitarian law rejects the just war theory as a basis for determining the legitimacy of any military offensive. The author's position is that both terrorists and counter-terrorists use the theory to legitimize their acts of violence. He reminds us that the purpose of international humanitarian law is not to address the legality of violence but rather to ensure the protection of the innocent during armed conflicts.