U.N. Remains Deadlocked on Defining Terrorism

A U.N. Ad Hoc Committee to Eliminate Terrorism, created by the General Assembly back in December 1996, has remained deadlocked as it tries to reach agreement on a comprehensive draft convention to eliminate terrorism. Last month, it made another unsuccessful effort at drawing a distinction between “freedom fighters” and “state sponsored terrorism”. (Doc. Nr. A/C.6/65/L.10) The draft convention, tabled in 2001 by India, has won agreement by several delegations to a substantial extent. Dr. Rohan Perera, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to Eliminate Terrorism, told IPS the only way to reach a consensus on the issue is to follow the path of adopting an operational or a criminal law definition of terrorism, rather than a generic definition.

The former approach has been followed in the 13 sectoral conventions on terrorism, and avoids the pitfalls of the latter approach which involves excluding certain types of conduct such as those committed by national liberation movements (NLM).

Accordingly, he said, the draft contains a criminal law definition.

“The question of state terrorism will continue to be  governed by general principles of international law, as it  is not possible to deal with this aspect in a law  enforcement instrument, dealing with individual criminal  responsibility, based on an ‘extradite or prosecute’  regime,” he said.

Similarly, said Perera, acts committed in the course of  armed conflicts by NLMs will continue to be governed by  international humanitarian law.

“The negotiations started in 2000 and we were close to  agreement in 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11 (terrorist  attacks on the United States),” he said. But since then, it  has remained stalled, with little significant progress.

He said that negotiations would resume within the framework  of the U.N.’s Sixth Committee dealing with legal issues.

Asked if there will ever be a new comprehensive convention  to eliminate terrorism because of the continuing deadlock,  Kohona told IPS: “Of course, there will be a convention.”

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