09/03/2016. Professor Johan van der Vyver delivers a lecture on the ISIS crises and the rise of International humanitarian law, at the University of Pretoria's law department. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Pretoria - Freedom fighting has been defined as the taking up of arms to topple colonial rule, foreign occupation and a racist regime. Organisations and structures engaging in that were given the blessing to do so by the UN.

Terrorism was described as the activities of structures with a political, religious or economic agenda, who were unable to achieve their objective through legal means and who were so obsessed with their cause that they did acts which shocked people’s conscience.

“The purpose is to make those in political control give in to their demands,” University of Pretoria’s Professor Johan van der Vyver said on Wednesday. The law professor said the two had been allowed to run into the other in times of difficulty.

“If freedom fighters failed to achieve their goals and if those goals were noble in the eyes of the world, turning to terrorism was seen as the right thing to do,” he said.

Terrorism under those circumstances was understood and supported by the UN and the world, for as long as the terrorists were committed to noble purposes.

Van der Vyver delivered a lecture on the Islamic State crisis and the rise of international humanitarian law at the university’s law department on Wednesday, where he explained that the laws around terrorism changed after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in the US.

“All acts of terrorism, performed under any circumstances became unacceptable,” he said.

There is still a body in the international world, which believes that acts of terrorism can be used to achieve noble purposes, despite innocent civilians falling victim, the professor added.

He told the gathering of humanitarian law experts that during the apartheid era, South Africa had been caught in the middle of both freedom fighting and terrorism.

“When the freedom fighters failed to get through to the political leaders and convince them to remove racist laws, they resorted to terrorism,” he said, adding that they had been understood to be pushed to doing that due to the racist regime under which they lived.

“The ANC and mainly PAC movements were clearly no match for the defence force at the time so they turned to terrorism, and in the eyes of the world their activities were noble and their actions ideal.”

He did not, however, think planting bombs in nightclubs and beating innocent girls up was the answer. They became too violent and therefore inflicted injuries and death unnecessarily, he said.

Van der Vyver is an extraordinary professor in the department of private law, and an IT Cohen professor of international law and human rights at Emory law school in Atlanta.

Pretoria News