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In 2014, reports suggested that a surge of foreign jihadists were participating in armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The U.N. Security Council responded by imposing new obligations on member states to counter the threat posed by “foreign terrorist fighters” (FTFs). In the intervening year, states have taken actions to implement those FTF obligations. Meanwhile, many states continue to fund and otherwise throw their support behind life-saving humanitarian relief for civilians in armed conflicts around the world—including conflicts involving terrorists. Yet, in recent years, members of the humanitarian community have become increasingly aware of the real, perceived, and potential impacts of counterterrorism laws on humanitarian action.

At this PHAP online expert IHL briefing, Dustin Lewis and Naz Modirzadeh, two of the authors of a recent report from the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (HLS PILAC), will present their research on suppressing “foreign terrorist fighters” and supporting principled humanitarian action in counterterrorism contexts. The presenters will discuss and answer questions relating to:

  • Converging and diverging elements of the normative frameworks underlying state responses to terrorism and state support of principled humanitarian action;
  • IHL implications of the “foreign terrorist fighter” framing;
  • Provisional methodologies to measure state compliance with key FTF-related Security Council obligations;
  • Provisional methodologies to measure state support of principled humanitarian action in counterterrorism contexts; and
  • Humanitarian exemptions under Security Council practice.


Naz Modirzadeh Naz Modirzadeh is the founding Director of the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC). She regularly advises and briefs international humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, and governments on issues related to international humanitarian law, human rights, and counterterrorism regulations relating to humanitarian assistance. For more than a decade, she has carried out legal research and policy work concerning a number of armed conflict situations. Her scholarship and research focus on intersections between the fields of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and Islamic law.
Dustin Lewis Dustin Lewis is a Senior Researcher at the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict (PILAC). With a focus on public international law sources and methodologies, he leads research projects on the theoretical underpinnings and application of international norms related to contemporary challenges concerning armed conflict.

Event host

Angharad Laing Angharad Laing Executive Director, International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP)


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Discussion resources

Report: Jessica Burniske and Dustin A. Lewis, with Naz K. Modirzadeh, “Suppressing Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Supporting Principled Humanitarian Action: A Provisional Framework for Analyzing State Practice,” Research Briefing, Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, October 2015.

Resources referred to during the session

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