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Unreliable definitions

The EU has guidelines to help it determine what constitutes terrorism,
but their list has long been based more on opportunism than objectivity


David Cronin
April 8, 2008 10:30 AM

Brendan Behan, one of Ireland's most celebrated wags, famously observed that while someone with a big bomb is a statesman, someone with a small bomb is a terrorist.

It is a strange world where the utterance of a man who drank himself into an early grave over 40 years ago makes far greater sense than most declarations on violence we hear from politicians today.

The misguided and myopic policies pursued by the European Union since the heinous crimes of September 11 2001 have once again been subject to official censure in the past few days. The European court in Luxembourg found that EU governments have collectively failed to justify why they placed the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) on their list of proscribed organisations.

Before I am accused of condoning atrocities ascribed to the PKK, let me explain why I welcome this verdict. The EU's practice of designating certain groups and individuals as terrorists has long been based more on political opportunism than any objective assessment of whether those in question pose a risk.

Up to a point, the EU has clear guidelines which should be able to help it determine what constitutes terrorism. In 2002, its governments agreed (pdf) to a comprehensive definition, which stated that terrorism includes activities aimed at "seriously intimidating a population" or "seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country".

For reasons that are impossible to defend, the definition was flanked with a caveat that it would not apply to acts carried out by the armed forces of a state. No doubt, that helps explain the abject double standards that the EU is applying in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Employing the EU's definition (and choosing to ignore the accompanying caveat), the worst terrorist organisation in that conflict is the state of Israel (armed, of course, by America). A new European commission report (pdf) underscores how Israel is seriously intimidating the Palestinians. During 2007, the commission notes, 377 Palestinians lost their lives due to violence, compared to 13 Israelis.

And yet, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations, had the insolence to recommend last week that Israel's relations with the EU should be upgraded to a "truly special" status. Hamas, on the other hand, will continue to be shunned because it appears on the EU's aforementioned list.

Similarly, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana pledged in January his "full support" to the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe in "the battle he is waging against terrorism". By offering such full support, Solana was tacitly giving approval to the heavy-handed tactics of the Colombian security forces (which allegedly include extra-judicial executions). Anything goes, it seems, so long as it is can be attributed to the Farc (another name on the EU's list).

Dick Marty, the Swiss senator best known for investigating Europe's collusion with the CIA's kidnapping and torture programme (euphemistically known as extraordinary rendition), has penned a devastating critique (pdf) of the EU's terror list. It is a denial of human rights "unworthy" of the EU, he found, to name individuals as terrorists, without them being informed or given the opportunity to defend themselves against the designation.

Marty's criticisms are particularly apt, when one considers the case of Dutch-based Filipino revolutionary Jose Maria Sison. In 2002, Sison had his bank account frozen, even though there was no criminal prosecution pending against him. Last year, the European court ruled against this move, yet Sison remains officially blacklisted by the EU.

Because they have found themselves in the dock on several occasions, the EU's governments have made some changes (pdf) to the procedures they use for designating terrorists. These, however, are mainly of a cosmetic nature. By turning a blind eye to state-sponsored violence, they do not address how the list is nothing more than a facile response to the man with the small bomb.

This entry was tagged with the following keywords: eu terrorism



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