International Humanitarian Law After September 11: Just War, Unjust Means?

Israeli actions against the Palestinians, US bombing in Afghanistan and the intervention of Russia’s armed forces in Chechnya all have something in common: the fight against terrorism.

The World Today
Published 1 August 2002 Updated 23 October 2020 5 minute READ

Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier

Legal Director, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

The Israeli actions against the Palestinians, US bombing in Afghanistan and the intervention of Russia’s armed forces in Chechnya also share something else: a refusal to recognise the relevance of humanitarian law to this type of conflict.

Since September 11, the ideological face-off which created the Cold War balance of power has rematerialised in the form of a ‘war’ on terrorism and the ‘axis of evil’. The same pattern applies and was set out by President George Bush, who solemnly declared that this was a global war and that each country, each region, had to choose sides.

Either they were with the Americans or the terrorists. He warned that any country that continued to harbour or support terrorists would be considered a hostile regime. He also warned that there was no room for neutrality in this conflict. But is there still room for respect for law? By applying the arguments of a ‘just war’, Bush dragged the world into political and judicial regression.

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