The Death of the Freedom Fighter: How the Threat of Terrorism is Suffocating the Protection of Political Criminals

Julia Andrea Jansson

Tutkimustuotos: OpinnäyteVäitöskirjaMonografia


Despite worldwide counterterrorism efforts, an internationally agreed legal definition of terrorism does not exist. The main obstacle for international counterterrorism initiatives and the creation of a shared definition has been the political and ambiguous nature of terrorism. A terrorist act is a combination of illegal deeds (murder or arson, for instance) and political goals (destroying the Western civilisation as such, for instance). Defining an act at the same time elusive and highly political is difficult, or possibly even impossible. Furthermore, using the term terrorism is itself already an act of labelling, as the term has a pejorative connotation.

Most past definitions of terrorism have included a political element. What would terrorist acts be without the political/ideological element? Mass killings, hijackings, bombings... 'Common' crimes, combined with often uncommonly destructive elements. Regardless of this inherent political element, the last decades have seen a global trend of depoliticising terrorism for the purpose of international collaboration.

My thesis describes and discusses this trend and the reasons behind it. Following a thorough analysis of international conventions and treaties as well as bilateral extradition treaties from the 1800s until the early 2000s, it suggests that terrorism has been depoliticised due to the existence of the so-called political offence exception to extradition that emerged in extradition treaties in 1834. Because of this widely accepted spawn of the revolutionary era, political offenders, in some cases including terrorists, were for a long time protected from extradition.

Almost immediately since the creation of the exception, the first limitations to it emerged. These limitations remained rare until the emergence of the modern terrorist threat since the 1970s. The spread of terrorism in Europe and elsewhere in the world from the 1970s onwards made the threat global and acute. One of the attempted solutions to the pressing problem was identical to the one that had been used in the late 19th century in the fight against anarchism: the depoliticisation of the violent acts. The aim of the depoliticisation formula was to protect ‘legitimate’ political offenders, but exclude terrorism from the scope of this protection excluding terrorist acts from the protection of the political offence exemption. The formula re-emerged for the first time since the 1800s in the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism in 1977. Slowly it was added to bilateral extradition treaties and was later used also by Interpol and the UN. Simultaneously, the political offence exemption was limited.

My thesis suggests that terrorism is destroying the political offence exception and the liberal idea that political dissidents, regardless their political ideologies, deserve protection. With the coming into force of the European Arrest Warrant in 2004, the political offence exception, a child of the revolutionary era, has seized to exist within the EU. It remains to be seen, whether this will happen worldwide. Some signs of this already exist.

In addition to the depoliticisation of terrorism, we have witnessed a contradicting trend of what I call repoliticisation, where special laws and tribunals have been set to deal with the terrorist threat. The new laws, contrary to the depoliticisation strategy, underline the political nature of terrorism by criminalising acts such as the glorification of terrorism.

My thesis examines these contradictory trends and suggests that the abovementioned strategies used against terrorism do not necessarily serve the purpose they intend to serve. I take a critical look at the various implications of both the depoliticisation of terrorism and underlining the political element of it. One of these implications is the decreasing global protection for non-violent political offenders.
Myöntävä instituutio
  • Helsingin yliopisto
  • Kekkonen, Jukka, Valvoja
Myöntöpäivämäärä9 kesäkuuta 2018
Painoksen ISBN978-951-51-4257-3
TilaJulkaistu - 9 kesäkuuta 2018
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Tohtorinväitöskirja (monografia)


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