Against the background of the mobilization of ‘foreign fighters’ for the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the Geneva Academy undertook various research projects to highlight and clarify a range of international law issues that arise through their participation and measures taken to stem their mobilization.
While the Geneva Academy uses the term ‘foreign fighter’, our research illustrates that the term itself is problematic. ‘Foreign fighters’ is used to describe individuals who leave their country of origin or habitual residency to join an armed insurgency abroad. Although the term ‘fighter’ conveys the idea that these are individuals who join armed groups and actively participate in fighting, the current usage of the term covers various forms of assistance to, support for or association with armed or terrorist groups. In Academy Briefing No. 7, Foreign Fighters under International Law (October 2014), we analyze the problematic conflation of armed conflict with terrorism, including the reference to ‘foreign terrorist fighters’. ‘Foreign fighters’ are ‘foreign’ because they do not habitually live in their destination state, i.e. the conflict state; they travel from abroad to associate with an armed group. Yet, using the term ‘foreign fighters’ as part of counter-terrorism discourse asserts their foreignness not only in relation to their destination state, but also their state of origin or habitual residence. In the Briefing, we analyze how such ‘othering’, i.e. the process whereby we assert that some people do not belong, is translated into legal measures, namely the revocation of citizenship.