The struggle against international terrorism has raised novel and complex questions about the nature of conflict, national security threats, and the place of human rights in the context of this struggle. These questions are especially salient with regard to state use of force, which involves the deployment of violence against individuals, as well as their seizure, detention, and trial.
In general terms, the current legal approach to dealing with these issues tends to present decision makers with a binary framework that was created with the assumption that conflict between states is the primary threat to international peace and stability. The absence of armed conflict is presumed to constitute peacetime, when human rights law requires that states deal with threats to the peace through law enforcement operations in which lethal force may be used only as a last resort, and exercising physical control over individuals is strictly constrained. Movement from peacetime to war occurs when states use armed force against one another, or when the use of force between non-state organized armed groups (against one another or against a state) reaches sufficient intensity and duration. During this period, the traditional paradigm assumes that international humanitarian law (IHL) largely governs state conduct, and that the demands of human rights law must be adapted to the IHL regime.
International terrorism by non-state actors presents challenges to reliance on this binary peacetime-wartime framework. One possible response is to regard terrorist violence as presumptively occurring during peacetime, which means that terrorism must be addressed under a law enforcement paradigm, which is governed by human rights law. Some critics, however, argue that the scale of destruction inflicted by international terrorist attacks is more akin to wartime damage than domestic criminal activity, and that law enforcement is insufficiently flexible to permit preventive operations. They argue that that international terrorists therefore should be treated as engaged in armed conflict that triggers the application of IHL.
Rules governing the use of force under IHL, however, run the risk of being excessively permissive when applied in settings that do not involve segregated battlefields but terrorists embedded in large civilian populations whose behavior is not unambiguously hostile. Service members are also being increasingly required to carry out activities more akin to law enforcement when undertaking operations amidst these local populations. One response to this is a call for greater incorporation of human rights principles into armed conflict operations in some settings.
There is a pressing need to develop legal concepts to guide operations that blend human rights and national security concerns in a way that does justice to the distinctive nature of many conflicts in the contemporary world. Some commentators and scholars argue that we should eschew the legal categories of human rights law and IHL and focus on forms of regulation that involve highly contextual assessment of the complex competing considerations at stake in particular situations. Others argue that traditional legal categories establish important presumptions, and that human rights law in particular is more flexible about the use of force than many observers realize. Still others suggest that we should consider a new third category to guide the use of force that draws on elements of both law enforcement and armed conflict. This course will assess these and other positions in the debate, with the aim of exploring how best to respond to the challenges that international terrorism and other forms of non-traditional state violence pose for the use of force.
This course will satisfy the upper-class writing requirement. Student learning objectives for the course are to use class sessions and the preparation of a paper:
•To become familiar with basic human rights standards that govern the use of force in law enforcement settings, with particular emphasis on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights;
•To become familiar with basic international law standards that govern the grounds for resort to force (jus ad bellum) and regulate the way force may be used in armed conflicts (jus in bello or law of armed conflict/international humanitarian law); and
•To gain an appreciation of the complex ways in which many current security threats and responses to them have features that do not fall squarely into the categories of either crime subject to law enforcement operations or armed conflict subject to conventional military operations.