The Application of International Law to Wars of
Noelle Higgins, Law Lecturer, School of Law
and Government, Dublin City University; Ph.D.
Candidate, Irish Centre for Human Rights,
National University of Ireland, Galway.
often summon up visions of fear, indiscriminate death and
These groups are viewed in many quarters as dissident rebels or
'terrorists' attempting to undermine legitimate governments.
The groups themselves,
however, have a diametrically opposing view of the situation.
These national liberation
see themselves as 'freedom fighters',
waging a war of national liberation
Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Kosovo Liberation Army.
Partia Karkaren Kurdistan
- Kurdish Workers Party.
Regarding the term 'national liberation movement' see Sluka's comment - The use of the term 'national
liberation movements' has political implications, particularly when the groups so named are generally
referred to by states and the media as 'terrorists'.
No one opposed to or critical of these movements calls
them 'national liberation movements' because liberation (freedom) has positive value connotations for most
Nowadays, in the conservative global New Right era we live in, most academics seem to prefer the
term 'armed separatist (or secessionist) movements', which they claim is a more objective or neutral
description - Sluka 1996.
It is to be noted that the present discussion does not attempt to address the issue
Terrorism is an extremely controversial topic that has defied definition - see Higgins 1997, 14
Also see generally Laqueur, 2001.
While it is accepted that acts of terrorism have, at times, been
committed during a war of national liberation and that a distinction must be made between an act of
terrorism and a legitimate act of war committed during a war of national liberation, an indepth discussion
of the phenomenon of terrorism falls outside the remit of this discussion.
See Sluka 1996 - Every nation people will defend its identity and territory from breakup and eradication.
Facing absorption and subjugation, many nations have no other choice than to militarily resist the
colonizing / conquering states.
This is a defensive reaction.
To defend their nations from being
annihilated, many peoples have taken up arms and engaged in wars of national liberation.
A war of national liberation has been described as: the armed struggle waged by a people through its
liberation movement against the established government to reach self-determination - Ronzitti in Cassese