Legal experts say int'l law will adjust to war against terrorism

Drafted covenant includes first internationally accepted definition of a terrorist organization.

guantanamo prison 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
guantanamo prison 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Three key speakers at a conference on international law and terrorism last week in Jerusalem said Israel must continue to abide by international law and that the law will eventually adjust itself according to the real-world experiences and needs of the countries that create it. "You have to reach a situation in which the practical experience of the nations will lead to solutions to legal problems," said Tel Aviv University law Prof. Yoram Dinstein. "It takes time for this practice to consolidate." The conference, on "Hamas, the Gaza War, and Accountability under International Law," was devoted in part to responding to the accusations of many countries and human rights organizations that Israel violated international law and perpetrated war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in December and January. According to Dinstein, life realities have already influenced the relationship between international law and terrorism. The most obvious one was the terrorist attacks by al-Qaida in the US on September 11, 2001. Not only did they change the American approach to fighting terrorism, but they also paved the way for broad international acceptance of a convention prohibiting the financing of terrorist organizations. The convention was drafted in 1999 but, according to Dinstein, most countries signed it in the wake of 9/11. The covenant included the first internationally accepted definition of a terrorist organization - one which carries out an action causing the death or injury of a civilian who has not participated in belligerent activities, with the purpose of intimidating the civilian population or forcing a government to change its policy. Another change in international law involved extradition, Dinstein continued. In the past, countries did not extradite suspects wanted for terrorism because terrorism was defined as politically motivated. Today, there is a covenant which determines that terrorist acts are not politically motivated for purposes of extradition, and therefore suspected terrorists can be extradited. Columbia Law School professor George Fletcher, who spoke by video, said, "Israel should recognize that our best friend in the international arena is not a set of people but a set of institutions, principles and ideas that are incorporated in the United Nations Charter." The first principle of international law was the right of every independent state to self-defense and to repel attacks against its territory by states, terrorist organizations or groups of people, he stressed Fletcher also blasted the government for refusing to send representatives to plead Israel's case before the International Court of Justice during the deliberations on the West Bank security barrier. Other speakers, including Col. (res.) Daniel Reisner and Dinstein, also called on Israel to present its case before most international forums and not to assume that it was useless to try to convince foreign representatives of Israel's position. Meanwhile, Col. Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, the outgoing commander of the International Law Department in the Military Advocate-General's Office, also called on Israel not to turn its back on international law. "There are those who say that the existing rules are not suitable for the war against terror," she said. "For one thing, international law conventions did not take into account this type of armed conflict and therefore their laws do not address the problems. Or else, they say that the moment one party to the conflict does not act in accordance with these rules, the other side is released from its obligation to do so. However, I say that the rules of international law are also relevant to the fight against terrorism. Furthermore, it won't help to demand that they be changed. It would be impossible to implement these changes and in the long run they would be harmful."