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Right of Self-Defence Under International Law: The Response to the Terrorist Attacks of 11 September

NCJ Number
Angus Martyn
Date Published
February 2001
12 pages
This document provides an international law debate on the use of force by the United States claiming self defense against the terrorist network Al Qaeda in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The international community has never succeeded in developing an accepted comprehensive definition of terrorism. International law has traditionally dealt with the duties and rights of states in their relations with each other. Most international law dealing with international terrorism concentrates on the duties of states to prevent and punish terrorism. In spite of its failure to define terrorism, in 1985 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning as criminal all acts of terrorism wherever committed, calling upon states to fulfil their obligations under international law to refrain from assisting in terrorist acts in other states. Since early October, the United States has maintained that it has firm evidence that Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network were responsible for the attack. The United States claims that its military action (use of force) in Afghanistan constitutes acts of self defense rather than being reprisals or punishment. The Charter of the United Nations, which states that all members shall refrain from threat or use of force against the political independence of any state, however, does not prevent a country from defending itself in response to acts of aggression. The resolution does not explicitly recognize that the right of self-defense applies in relation to any parties as a consequence of the September 11 attacks. However, it can be argued that well-organized terrorist groups with the means to inflict significant damage on a country on a ongoing basis (Al Qaeda) must represent the sort of threat against which self defense is legitimate if the doctrine is to have any practical contemporary value. 38 endnotes