Acts of terror, "terrorism" and international humanitarian law

30-09-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 847, by Hans-Peter Gasser

This article examines the international humanitarian law applicable to acts of terror. All acts of terror committed during international or non-international armed conflicts are prohibited without exception. In addition, the author argues that State responses to terrorist acts are also regulated by international humanitarian law when carried out during an armed conflict.


Hans-Peter Gasser,
is a former Senior Legal Advisor of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, and former Editor of the International Rewiew of the Red Cross. 
International humanitarian law prohibits without exception all acts of terror during international or non-international armed conflicts. This body of law also requires States to prevent and punish breaches. Acts of terrorism may constitute war crimes, subject to international jurisdiction, and the International Criminal Court may be competent to hear such cases. At the same time, the fight against terrorism and the prosecution of persons suspected of terrorism are subject to international humanitarian law if they take place during armed conflict. That body of law does not constitute an obstacle to the fight against terrorism. Indeed, suspected terrorists can be prosecuted for acts of terrorism. But even the members of armed forces or “illegal fighters” suspected of acts of terrorism are protected by the Geneva Conventions and are entitled to judicial guarantees if put on trial.  
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