How to define terrorism?

FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, recently released two hostages held for years in captivity (then promptly kidnapped tourists days later.)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called for the group to be removed from the global terrorist list, but unsurprisingly the US isn’t biting.

Paul Wolf is an an attorney based in Washington, DC. He is currently representing Colombian victims of paramilitary violence and argues that FARC is not in fact a terrorist organisation:

Amid the jubilant press reaction to the freeing of Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez has made the surprising announcement, almost immediately ratified by the Venezuelan Congress, that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP) is a legitimate belligerent force, and not a terrorist group. Although I have been criticizing Chávez of late, I have to say that I not only agree with this, but also think that America’s official “terrorist list” and “war on terrorism” have an extremely destructive impact on efforts to resolve conflicts all over the world.

While assassination, kidnapping, and the use of indiscriminate weapons are barbaric, they are used in one form or another in virtually every conflict, including by the United States. Just ask the estimated 10,000 people in Iraqi prisons—held without any legal process on the suspicion that they are insurgents—if they have been kidnapped. Or a “high value al-Qaida operative” impacted by a missile on the basis of “actionable intelligence.” Or go to the morgue in Fallujah and ask about people killed in the incendiary bombing a couple years ago.

It’s not a question of accepting the FARC-EP’s goals and methods as legitimate. It’s about resolving a conflict through negotiation, rather than trying to demonize and exterminate an enemy. In Colombia, numerous illegal groups have demobilized and successfully entered into politics. The practical effect of recognizing the FARC-EP’s belligerent status—which of course Colombia will never do—would be to force the Colombian government into negotiations. Also, people like FARC commander Simón Trinidad could not be put on trial for acts that are not war crimes, such as taking enemy combatants as prisoners.

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