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The right of self-defence: against whom?

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2005
JournalYearbook of New Zealand Jurisprudence
Number of pages18
Original languageEnglish


The 11 September attacks and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan have raised profound questions about the scope of the right of self-defence in intemationallaw, in particular, to whom it applies. The United States has asserted that it has a right of self-defence against attacks by the AI-Qaeda terrorist organisation. However, this would seem to depart from what might be called the "traditional" interpretation of self-defence, which limits the right to between states. In this view, both the perpetrator and the victim of an "armed attack", which gives rise to a right of self-defence, can only be a state. Yet this view itself has somewhat uncertain foundations, not being spelled out in the main provision on self-defence in the UN Charter and instead derived from a custom which shows some notably inconsistent practice. How, then, should the right of self-defence be considered? Is it reserved only for states, or can it also relate to other actors, such as terrorists, peoples and even individuals?