2.1 Some ‘official’ definitions of terrorism
The Encyclopedia Brittanica
The Encyclopedia Brittanica defines terrorism as ‘the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective. Terrorism has been practised by political organisations with both rightist and leftist objectives, by nationalistic and religious groups, by revolutionaries, and even by state institutions such as armies, intelligence services, and police.’ (Jenkins)
The European Union
In 2000, the European Union (EU) adopted the following definition of terrorism as encompassing acts that ‘… given their nature or context, may seriously damage a country or an international organisation where committed with the aim of: seriously intimidating a population; or unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; or seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation’. (European Union, 2002)
The United Nations’ unadopted definition
In 2005, the United Nations (UN) proposed to define terrorism as something that involved ‘any act intended to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international body to act’ and constituted ‘one of the most serious threats to international peace and security’. However, in 2006 the 192 nation states comprising the UN failed to agree a formal definition. This was largely because of disagreements among members on whether a definition should encompass armed conflicts that take place in ‘situations of foreign occupation’. (United Nations, 2005)
The British government’s legal definition
Below is the British government’s legal definition of terrorism, applied by British courts, which is set out in Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (as amended by the Terrorism Act 2006, indicated by square bracket).
- In this Act "terrorism" means the use or threat of action where–
- (a) the action falls within subsection (2),
- (b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government [or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
- (c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
- Action falls within this subsection if it –
- (a) involves serious violence against a person,
- (b) involves serious damage to property,
- (c) endangers a person's life, other than that of the person committing the action,
- (d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
- (e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
- The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.