By Jennifer Breedon
When I started law school, my passion for the Middle East and human rights prompted me to take on the added task of writing my first legal journal article that sought to tackle the question of coining a “universal definition” for terrorism.
ISIS had begun its blood-lust mission and Islamist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda continued to ravage the Middle East. I dedicated months of in-depth research into the current or proposed “terrorism” definitions to discover how countries could come together to agree upon one (universal) definition so that we could prosecute the perpetrators and bring to light the criminal ideology of these campaigns in order to take a blanket “religious discussion” out of current discourse and use the law to bring actual crimes to light.
However, the more I learned about the intent of these organizations (such as ISIS in 2014), their actions, words and end goals, the more I started to realize this: there is already a definition for modern day terrorism by Islamist extremists—it’s called the Crime of Genocide.
Terrorism is genocidal by its very nature, as these groups seek to oppress and destroy entire nations (Hamas and Hezbollah vis-s-vis Israel) or entire religious groups (ISIS vis-à-vis Christians and Yazidis, naming only their most prevalent targets to date).
I was still a student, not yet licensed as an attorney, but my hope was that international attorneys would see this reality and pick up the torch to start bringing the perpetrators to justice on the floors of global court rooms so the world would bear witness to the vast illegality of their motivations, intentions, and actions, rather than relying merely on educational resources to figure out “What on earth are these Islamist extremist groups trying to accomplish?” (This is a question we still ask when there’s an attack or new atrocity brought to light.)
The great thing about a trial is that the facts of the case and the evidence of the accused becomes public record for the world to see, giving the victims the chance to see the murderous leaders brought to justice. Think of the Nuremburg Trials following World War II or the picture of Adolf Eichmann being brought to justice before an Israeli court to face the Jewish people and answer for his crimes as a Nazi War criminal.
I prayed for the opportunity for victims of Islamist extremism to do the same in courts around the world, and, this week, Amal Clooney picked up that torched in announcing she would represent Nadia Murad and the Yazidi people in court to bring the ISIS leaders responsible for their torture and genocide to justice, despite all empty “genocide declarations” on the plight of Yazidis in Iraq and Syria.
Amal Clooney discussed the need to go beyond military strikes and destroy the ideology that ISIS has spread by providing a voice to the victims of its brutal massacre of religious minorities.
Despite the legal responsibilities of the United Nations, United States and European Union States, not a single ISIS member has been brought before a tribunal to face their victims and charges as a genocidal criminal.
Every day, lawyers such as myself emerge from the path of law school with hopes of fighting for justice, but soon discover that diplomatic pressures, bureaucratic roadblocks, economic aspirations and political interests really just don’t have time to provide justice for the victims of the most egregious offenses.
Perhaps Clooney’s pioneering of the untrodden path in this legal avenue will pave the way for more international attorneys to allow the victims of genocide to face the leaders of their peoples’ annihilation and will begin to allow for the much needed debate of the criminal underpinnings of Islamist extremist campaigns against minorities.
Jennifer Breedon is Clarion Project’s legal analyst.