‘Foreign Fighters’ and Counter-Terrorism

Completed in June 2018

Against the background of the mobilization of ‘foreign fighters’ for the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the Geneva Academy undertook various research projects to highlight and clarify a range of international law issues that arise through their participation and measures taken to stem their mobilization.

Terminology

While the Geneva Academy uses the term ‘foreign fighter’, our research illustrates that the term itself is problematic. ‘Foreign fighters’ is used to describe individuals who leave their country of origin or habitual residency to join an armed insurgency abroad. Although the term ‘fighter’ conveys the idea that these are individuals who join armed groups and actively participate in fighting, the current usage of the term covers various forms of assistance to, support for or association with armed or terrorist groups. In Academy Briefing No. 7, Foreign Fighters under International Law (October 2014), we analyze the problematic conflation of armed conflict with terrorism, including the reference to ‘foreign terrorist fighters’. ‘Foreign fighters’ are ‘foreign’ because they do not habitually live in their destination state, i.e. the conflict state; they travel from abroad to associate with an armed group. Yet, using the term ‘foreign fighters’ as part of counter-terrorism discourse asserts their foreignness not only in relation to their destination state but also their state of origin or habitual residence. In the Briefing, we analyze how such ‘othering’, i.e. the process whereby we assert that some people do not belong, is translated into legal measures, namely the revocation of citizenship.

Research Team

This research project was carried out by Sandra Krähenmann.

OUTPUT

‘Foreign Fighters’, Freedom of Expression and the Right to Privacy

From October 2015 to May 2016 the Geneva Academy undertook a research project that assessed the impact of measures taken to stem the flow of ‘foreign fighters’ on the right to privacy and freedom of expression online, against the broader background of countering violent extremism and terrorism online.

This research project explored overarching issues such as the concept of violent extremism and its definitional challenges and the use of information and communication technology by terrorist groups, including to attract ‘foreign fighters’. It also looked at the potential human rights impact of a series of measures taken to prevent violent extremism or terrorism online, such as removal of content or mass surveillance, and analyzed the role of private companies.

It supported a forthcoming study of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on safeguarding freedom of expression and the right to privacy while countering violent extremism and terrorism online. Together with OHCHR, the Geneva Academy hosted a meeting 25 May 2016 to discuss the research project’s results and the forthcoming OHCHR study.

‘Foreign Fighters’ under International Law

This research project analyzed the phenomenon of ‘foreign fighters’ from the perspective of international law. Carried out from January to September 2014, its findings are compiled in Academy Briefing No. 7, Foreign Fighters under International Law. The Briefing covers a range of international law issues associated with ‘foreign fighters’, including their status during armed conflicts; the meaning of acts of terrorism under international humanitarian law; ‘foreign fighters’ under universal and regional counter-terrorism frameworks; the prosecution of ‘foreign fighters’; diplomatic protection of captured ‘foreign fighters’; limitations on freedom of movement to prevent the departure of aspiring ‘foreign fighters’ and the revocation of citizenship of suspected ‘foreign fighters’.

Dissemination

The Geneva Academy participated in a series of events to share the results of its research, including:

Publications

Cover of the Briefing No7: Foreign Fighters Under International Law

Briefing N°7: Foreign Fighters under International Law

October 2014

Sandra Krähenmann

Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Download >

MORE ON THIS THEMATIC AREA

Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt present his annual report and reports on his missions to China and Greece at the 31st regular session of the Human Rights Council. 7 March 2016 News

New Expert Pool Will Strengthen the Capacity of Human Rights Mechanisms to Incorporate IHL into Their Work

29 September 2022

As part of this new IHL-EP, the Geneva Academy requested to intervene as a third party in the proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the case of Ukraine v. Russia (X).

Read more

Map of the RULAC online portal with the pop-up window on the past armed conflicts in Mexico News

Mexico: Declassification of the Three Armed Conflicts Involving Drug Cartels on RULAC

12 December 2022

While the armed violence between the government and the drug cartels, as well as between cartels themselves, remains high, it has become increasingly challenging to attribute these instances of violence and clashes to specific armed groups.

Read more

Nuclear missiles Event

Changing the Rules of the (Nuclear) Game: Voices from the Humanitarian, Technological, Strategic and Legal Fields

20 February 2023, 18:00-19:30

This IHL Talk will address today's place of nuclear weapons, including their humanitarian impact, the impact of technological advancements, the relevance of the deterrence narrative and implications on the international legal framework.

Read more

Aleppo, Syria: great Umayyad mosque. Destructions. Event

Book Launch: Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities

1 March 2023, 18:15-20:00

At this book launch, one of the book’s editors will discuss cultural heritage and mass atrocities with contributors to the book and specialists.

Read more

Afghanistan, Parwan detention facility. Inside a room where detainees of the prison, separated by an acrylic glass, are allowed to meet with their families a couple of times per year with the help of the ICRC employees who facilitate the programme. Short Course

Preventing and Combating Terrorism

27 April - 8 June 2023

This online short course discusses the extent to which states may limit and/or derogate from their international human rights obligations in order to prevent and counter-terrorism and thus protect persons under their jurisdiction.

Read more

Computer screen with warning: civilian infrastucture: do not attack Project

Digitalization of Conflict Joint Initiative: Humanitarian Impact and Legal Protection

Started in September 2020

This project will explore humanitarian consequences and protection needs caused by the digitalization of armed conflicts and the extent to which these needs are addressed by international law, especially international humanitarian law.

Read more

Surveillance Camera Project

COUNTER-TERROR PROJECT: A LEGAL EMPIRICAL APPROACH

Started in June 2019

The ‘Counter-Terror Pro LegEm’ project combines legal analysis with social science research to (1) examine the effectiveness of counterterrorism measures and their effects on human rights and (2) analyse the structure of terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda or the Islamic State and see whether they qualify as ‘organized armed groups’ for the purpose of international humanitarian law.

Read more

Cover page of the study Publication

From Words to Deeds A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms: Research and Policy Conclusions

published on September 2022

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard, Ezequiel Heffes

Read more

Cover of the publication Publication

From Words to Deeds: A Study of Armed Non-State Actors’ Practice and Interpretation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Norms: Al-Qaeda

published on September 2022

Annyssa Bellal, Pascal Bongard and Ezequiel Heffes

Read more