9/11 is certainly a day which will be remembered as part of human history. It not only created a new world order, but caused as well a serious violation of existing rules. Personally I think that the greatest impact of this event has been that it has deeply undermined the ethics and legality of world politics. Under the veil of counterterrorism strategies, a series of paths has developed that can be considered a step backwards in the progress of international law. Firstly, not only pre-emptive (illegal) wars have been legitimized, but the juridical uncertainty underpinned by the fact that there is no absolute legal definition of terrorism has destablized the international system and deeply politicized it. To think about the world from a “black and white” perspective –good and bad, with us or against us – is to wilfully disregard a whole dimension of international society that does not see the world in these terms.
Secondly, this war against terrorism has created a legacy more of questions and doubts than positive outcomes. All the norms of international humanitarian law can now be sidestepped or bent if your enemy is seen as a terrorist, while any person who is termed a terrorist doesn’t deserve any kind of recognition as an individual person. The rights of Prisoners Of War (POWs) and detainees or alleged terrorists have been neglected or violated, torture has become justifiable, policies have placed greater restrictions on people’s freedom, the principle of self determination that allows peoples to fight against an oppressive government or regime or a foreign occupation is no longer defensible.
Two examples of the impact of 9/11 can be shown from Latin America. First, the case of Cuba, which was one of the countries that responded almost immediately after the terrorist attacks against the United States and demonstrated its solidarity. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks Cuba has adopted about 12 treaties or declarations that condemn terrorism, yet is still on the “list” of terrorist nations. The other example is Colombia: on one hand, it has become much more apparent that the population does not support the armed groups, that these have lost their legitimacy through their acts of violence, terrorism and kidnapping. But on the other hand, if armed groups are considered as terrorist this allows the government to pursue them as criminals and not as parties to an armed group (which would demand appliance of international humanitarian law).
The fight against terrorism has allowed governments to declare states of emergency and take up more power in disregard for democratic values. Eventually we are getting used to living in a world where our innocence is not first presumed but must be proven, where the ends justify the means and where it is OK to accuse our neighbors because they look like terrorists.
Terrorism is a great malaise in our world. But it cannot be fought just with guns or weapons, it cannot be targeted or associated with particular religions or ethnic groups. Any attempt to defeat terrorism without respect for the rule of law will always be questionable and will be seen as a political justification for consolidating power.
Amaya Querejazu Escobari