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Chair: Dr Amanda Chisholm, Senior Lecturer in Security Studies / Researcher in Gender and Security

Speaker: Inga Trauthig, PhD candidate at the War Studies Department


Defining Terrorism has proven a perpetual characteristic of modern conflict studies. One recurring element is the analogy of terrorist acts with war crimes – in basic terms, equalling terrorist acts with war crimes in peaceful times. In academic discourse this equation has been criticised, specified or even entirely dismissed by some.

Contrary to what many believe, however, a generally accepted definition of terrorism as an international crime in time of peace does exist. This definition has evolved in the international norms at the level of customary law. However, there is still disagreement over whether the definition may also be applied in time of armed conflict, the issue in dispute being in particular whether acts performed by ‘freedom fighters’ in wars of national liberation may (or should) constitute an exception to the definition. As a consequence of disagreement on terrorism in armed conflict, states have so far been unable to lay down a general definition of the whole phenomenon of terrorism in a general treaty.

While acknowledging the theoretical debates, this research aims to contribute an empirical examination of similarities and differences of war crimes and terrorist acts by relying on examples from contemporary Libya. The time period covered runs from 2013 – 2020, with this encompassing different waves of armed conflict in different parts of the country. In addition, Libya experienced territorial control and rule by the terrorist group of Islamic State (IS) in that time. The research approach is guided by case studies in the East, West and South of the country and relies on primary documents by some groups themselves as well as reports of international organisations (like the UN), non-governmental organisations (like Human Rights Watch) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), which (partially) documented the atrocities in focus.

With this, the research will contribute to an enhanced understanding of the similarities and differences between war crimes and terrorism for researchers of modern conflict, civil wars and terrorism. Underlying issues that will be addressed include the question if terrorist acts trigger more political actions versus war crimes triggering largely legal repercussions? Or the notion of a distinction into times of armed conflict and peace when categorising war crimes versus terrorism that proves relatively futile in a country like Libya that escapes this binary categorisation for most of the examined timeframe.




Inga Kristina Trauthig is a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department and Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London.

She holds an MLitt in Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asian Security Studies from the University of St Andrews and attended the University of Würzburg and the University of Texas at Austin for her undergraduate studies. Her studies have been supported by the German Academic Exchange Service, the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies and the Conflict Research Society.

Inga has conducted work with UN-organisations, NGOs and private companies that addressed root causes of civil strife as well as practical and ideological competition between state and non-state actors in the Middle East. At King’s College, she is convener of the MENA Research Group within the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (IMES).


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