[Workshop] Countering terrorism and violent extremism in the public interest

31 October - 01 November 2023
  • Starts at: 10:00h

There is by now a well-honoured pattern observable in the aftermath of a terrorist act. First, there is the (very) public and politicised discussions on whether the relevant authorities had the necessary means and measures to pre-empt the attack. Then, almost inevitably, in order to be seen to respond effectively to the attack as well as be able to prevent further attacks, governments usually seek to expand their counter-terrorism and security toolkits with more far-reaching and, at times, controversial powers. With the public and political stakes very high, and despite often acknowledging the onerous and potentially discriminatory nature of the measures, legislators tend to adopt contentious provisions which may have a significant and long lasting impact on individual rights and human dignity. Predictably, this pattern has continued unabated – both domestically and internationally – following acts of terrorism such as the events of 9/11, the 2005 London bombings and the Paris (2015), Nice (2016) and Brussels (2016) attacks. The, by now, entrenched ‘necessity’ of counter-terrorism measures is aptly illustrated by the recent comments of Catherine De Bolle, Europol’s Executive Director, during the presentation of the latest situational analysis on terrorism in the EU report: “[i]n a time of geopolitical shifts, the EU needs to continue more than ever its counter-terrorist measures”.

In contrast to the highly publicised and dissected events mentioned above, the spread of terrorism across other continents such as Africa and Asia rarely garners the same level of attention or discussion. In 2022, terrorist acts resulted in at least 7816 deaths across Africa, with Southern Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad regions particularly affected. As unambiguously emphasised by the President of Mozambique Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, while terrorism is a global threat, the situation in Africa remains more critical with the continent representing 48 percent of terrorism-related deaths and the Sahel region becoming the new epicentre of terrorist attacks. In addition, the references to Afghanistan becoming, yet again, “a terrorism staging ground” within the so-called ‘Discord Leaks’ barely triggered a reaction. Indeed, the highly contrasting responses to acts of terrorism depending on the region where they occur and the motivations of the actors involved is another well-honoured pattern.

The extensiveness of international, regional and domestic counter-terrorism toolkits (from legislative, policy and operational perspectives a-like) combined with the, in essence, ritualised nature of the patterns noted above raise numerous critical questions. Firstly, what is ‘terrorism’? Are events such as the Christchurch (2019) attacks acts of terrorism or acts of violent right-wing extremism? Is ‘continuing’ with the present range of wide-reaching counter-terrorism measures in the public interest? What is in the public interest in the context of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism? Should another wave of national security legislation – this time to disrupt and counter violent extremism online and offline – be expected in the near future? Has the threat of insecurity been inflated in the last two decades to the extent that current counter- terrorism and extremism measures are irreversible? Are current domestic and international legal and policy frameworks capable of addressing the growing threat posed by far-right terrorism and extremism? What has the longer term impact of (extra-)territorial and (extra-)legal counter- terrorism and extremism been? How much have the boundaries between counter-terrorism and counter-extremism been blurred? How have recent trends in counter-terrorism policies obscured the borders between and the operation of the legal aspects of counter-terrorism and other fields of law, such as the law of armed conflict, immigration or criminal law? In an increasingly digitalised counter-terrorism and extremism environment, can states be held accountable for excessive restrictions of individual human rights? How can it be ensured that the protection the rule of law and human rights offers to individuals fully extends to counter- terrorism and extremism efforts in the digital realm? What have the last two decades taught us in terms of human rights resilience and accountability for states?

These are some of the many questions, within the overarching theme of countering terrorism and violent extremism in the public interest, that this workshop aims to explore. The workshop is organised in the context of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut’s strategic research agenda ‘Rethinking public interests in international and European Law’ and in particular the activities of the research strand ‘In the public interest: accountability of the state and the prosecution of crimes’.


We welcome submissions of abstracts of up to 500 words. The list of questions above is not exhaustive: we also welcome submissions on other issues that fit within the overall theme. We particularly welcome abstract submissions from early career researchers from across the globe. We define an ‘early career researcher’ inclusively and broadly. It includes anyone who is currently pursuing a PhD or is to up to five years post-PhD, not including periods of leave, for example, maternity, care or sick leave. Those whose abstract proposals are accepted will be asked to submit a 3,000 word paper by 15 September 2023. These papers will be circulated among the workshop’s participants in advance to facilitate in-depth discussions. Further guidance on the paper format will be sent to selected participants. Workshop participants will receive tailored substantive feedback on their research during the workshop in order to support further development and publication. After the workshop, a selected number of authors will be invited to submit their paper to be part of an edited volume with a well-known publisher (further details to follow). There is a possibility for funding to cover some travel expenses and accommodation costs for those attending in-person (further details to follow).

Key Dates

  • An abstract of up to 500 words, together with a small biography of up to 250 words, should be submitted in one PDF by 16 June 2023 to R.vanArk@asser.nl with T.Gherbaoui@asser.nl and J.Sexton@asser.nl in cc. 
  • Please use the following header when making your email submission – “Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism in the Public Interest Workshop”.
  • Responses to submissions will be made by 30 June 2023
  • The authors of selected abstracts will be required to submit a 3,000 word paper by 15 September 2023.
  • The hybrid workshop will be held on 31 October and 1 November 2023 at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut (The Hague, the Netherlands) and online.


Organising Committee