US: NPWJ decries criminalisation of IHL training

22 Jun, 2010 | Press Releases

The US Supreme Court, in a major blow to civil rights, has held that human rights advocacy to insurgents and non-state actors designated as “terrorists” at the discretion of the US State Department or by political decision of the US Congress, including training on their legal obligations to protect civilians, constitutes “material support to terrorists”, punishable under US Federal Law by 15+ years in prison.

A deeply divided Court found that engaging with groups such as the Tamil Tigers or the PKK to persuade them to abide with international human rights and humanitarian standards, or advocating that they lay down their weapons and use peaceful nonviolent methods to resolve disputes constitutes “expert advice or training” that is prohibited by the Act.

The majority reasoning is based on the spurious argument that human rights advocacy and training in nonviolence, designed to promote peaceable and lawful conduct, advances terrorism in multiple ways, a proposition correctly described by the dissenting opinion as being “far from obvious” and “unsupported by any empirical evidence”.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court by the Obama administration, after multiple lower court rulings had found the 2001 USA Patriot Act was unconstitutionally vague, as the expression “material aid” could now cover the legitimate activities of human rights advocacy, nonviolent conflict resolution and humanitarian assistance in crisis zones, thereby representing a threat to human rights advocacy and humanitarian groups engaged in that work.

No Peace Without Justice and the Transnational Nonviolent Radical Party decry the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold criminal penalties for the use of human rights advocacy and peacemaking as nonviolent weapons to promote political change.

We appeal to US Congress to repeal or amend the USA Patriot Act in order to ensure that the promotion of nonviolence as a method for political activism is preserved as a weapon of mass attraction in the worldwide fight to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

For further information, contact Alison Smith on or +32-2-548 39 12 or Nicola Giovannini on or +32-2-548-39 15.