Press Release

CERL conference investigates legal frameworks for fighting terrorism

Attacks around the world by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have highlighted the challenge of addressing the threat posed by violent non-state actors while adhering to the rule of law values that form the core of democratic governance. While legal scholars and policymakers have had difficulty adapting existing legal frameworks to the demands of asymmetric warfare, a new project from the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL) at the University of Pennsylvania Law School seeks to sharpen the understanding of policymakers and academics regarding the status of non-state actors under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC).

On October 27–29, CERL will hold a conference titled Using Law to Fight Terror at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House. In a series of workshop-style, unclassified conversations, alternating with keynote sessions that are open to the public, a diverse and prominent group policymakers, highly placed military leaders, and scholars from a wide array of different disciplines will explore whether international criminal prosecutions and civil suits against countries sponsoring terrorism can provide an effective additional tool in efforts to deter ISIS and other terrorist networks.

“This project seeks to assess the promise of novel strategies in fighting international terrorist organizations, with the aim of developing, disseminating, and helping to implement effective policy alternatives,” said Claire Finkelstein, Algernon Biddle Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy and Founder and Director of CERL. “We seek particularly to explore using law as a way to fight terror, where adherence to the rule of law can itself provide an effective means of combatting a lawless enemy. Finding the framework that is likely to be most effective — pragmatically, ethically, and legally — for tracing and disrupting the operations of non-state actors like ISIS is an urgent domestic and foreign policy challenge.”

Sessions at the conference will examine: the problems posed by non-state actors in international security and the rule of law, the drawbacks of attempting to fit such cases into a traditional military framework and just war paradigm, the challenges raised by domestic prosecutions, the possibility and limits of trying non-state actors at the International Criminal Court, the limits and weaknesses of the ad hoc tribunal model, the precedents set by and lessons to be learned from the military court model, and the promise of using successful international collaborations addressing terrorist networks, along with the legal frameworks applied in such instances, as a model to confront other international law enforcement challenges.

Prominent participants in the event will include Brigadier General John Baker, Chief Defense Counsel, Military Commissions Defense Organization, Guantanamo Bay; Secretary William Lietzau, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Rule of Law & Detainee Policy; General Charles Pede, Commanding General and Commandant,The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School; Patricia Viseur Sellers, Special Advisor on Sexual Violence crimes to the ICC, ICTY, ICTR; and Andrew T. Cayley, GMG Q.C., Director of Service Prosecutions for the United Kingdom, former Chief Prosecutor Cambodia Tribunal, ICTY, ICC.

Co-sponsoring this conference with CERL is Penn’s Perry World House, the University of Pennsylvania’s new university-wide hub for international activities, and The Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research of the Wharton School.

CERL is a non-partisan interdisciplinary institute dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rule of law in twenty-first century warfare and national security. The only center of its kind housed within a law school, CERL draws from the study of law, philosophy, and ethics to answer the difficult questions that arise in times of war and contemporary transnational conflicts. It represents the vision of its founder and director, Professor Claire Finkelstein, in uniting scholars and policymakers from various fields in a multi-disciplinary conversation on some of the most challenging issues of our time.

For more information on this event please contact us at Go to the conference website.