‘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

Portrait of Chiara Redealli News

Meet our Researchers: Chiara Redaelli

March 2020

Dr Chiara Redaelli is one of our Research Fellows in international humanitarian law. She currently works on our Rule of Law in Armed Conflict (RULAC) project.

Read more

Destroyed buildings during the 2008 South Ossetia Conflict News

LLM Students Plead Online on the 2008 South Ossetian Conflict

May 2020

In the framework of our LLM and the course on IHL given by our Director Professor Marco Sassòli, students pleaded online on 17 May for Russia and Georgia arguing that the side they represent has respected IHL while the adverse side has violated IHL.

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

11 March - April 2021

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, 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

Syria, destroyed building and ambulance Short Course

Basic Principles of International Humanitarian Law

1- October 2020

This short course, which can be followed in Geneva or online, examines the sources of international humanitarian law (IHL). It provides an introduction to the key principles and terminology of IHL.

Read more

Screenshot of the RULAC webpage Project

Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts (RULAC)

Started in May 2007

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts project (RULAC) is a unique online portal that identifies and classifies all situations of armed violence that amount to an armed conflict under international humanitarian law (IHL). It is primarily a legal reference source for a broad audience, including non-specialists, interested in issues surrounding the classification of armed conflicts under IHL.

Read more

On the screen, on the screen is Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), briefing the Security Council on the 70th Anniversary of Geneva Conventions. Project

International Humanitarian Law and the United Nations Security Council

Started in January 2020

Read more

Cover page of the Annual Report 2019 Publication

Annual Report 2019

published on May 2020

Read more