1 April 2003

General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism Opens Seventh Session; Will Continue Negotiatings on Two Draft Treaties

NEW YORK, 31 March (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate Terrorism opened its seventh session this morning with speakers outlining opposing views regarding several key provisions of an international comprehensive convention on terrorism, one of two draft treaties currently being elaborated by that body.

Established by the Assembly in 1996, the Ad Hoc Committee has the task of harmonizing international legal structures against terrorism. So far, it has successfully negotiated two treaties: the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing, and the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.

The Committee is also mandated to continue consideration of the outstanding issues on a convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism, as well as to keep on its agenda the issue of convening a high-level United Nations conference to formulate an organized international response to terrorism.

While the Committee has made rapid progress in negotiating the majority of the 27 articles of the comprehensive treaty, which was submitted by India during the Committee's fifth session in 2001, it has narrowed its focus to three particularly difficult areas, including a definition of terrorism and its relation to liberation movements, and the possible exemptions to the treaty's scope, in particular the activities of armed forces.

Most speakers in this morning's meeting agreed that the Committee should seek to elaborate a comprehensive legal framework, on the basis of which the scourge of terrorism would be eradicated. Many insisted that the comprehensive anti-terrorism convention should be devoid of political considerations. In that respect, the representative of Liechtenstein emphasized that the world was constantly changing, but delegations were called upon to formulate the rules that were meant to last on the basis of common and lasting principles, including those of the United Nations Charter.

Others, however, called for including in the text reference to the root causes of terrorism, including poverty and under-development, and to distinguish terrorism from peoples' legitimate fight against foreign occupation and oppression. Recalling a Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur last

February, Pakistan's representative said that there, 116 States -- the majority of the United Nations membership -- had rejected attempts to equate the legitimate fight against foreign occupation and oppression with terror. The fate of negotiations in the Committee depended on whether their opinion was respected.

Rohan Perera (Sri Lanka), who was re-elected Chairperson of the Committee this morning, said the Committee could contribute to strengthening the legal framework of international instruments aimed at combating terrorism. The challenge was to find a solution conducive to the adoption of the draft convention. The time had come for delegations to make creative proposals. In that regard, he asked the Committee to channel its efforts at resolving the remaining outstanding issues, namely article 2 on the definition of terrorism, article 2 bis on the Convention's scope and article 18 on the exclusion of security forces. The Committee must make every effort to build upon what had been accomplished, without unravelling a text on which there was already a substantial measure of agreement.

Today's meeting was opened by Hans Corell, Legal Counsel for the United Nations. In addition to re-electing Mr. Perera, the Committee also elected Michael Bliss (Australia) as Vice-Chairperson and Lublin Dilja (Albania) as Rapporteur. Carlos Fernando Diaz Paniagua (Costa Rica) and Albert Hoffman (South Africa) also serve as Vice-Chairpersons.

Statements were also made by representatives of Cuba, Greece (on behalf of the European Union), India, Syria, Tunisia, Cameroon, Pakistan, United States, Israel, Sudan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference) and Saudi Arabia.

The Committee will meet again in plenary tomorrow, Tuesday, 1 April at 3 p.m.


BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba) said it was impossible to eliminate terrorism if some terrorist acts were condemned while others were tolerated or justified. In order to advance, it was necessary to address with complete honesty all the forms and manifestations of terrorism worldwide, not excluding under any circumstances the concept of State terrorism. In the last 44 years, 691 terrorist acts had been committed against Cuba, 33 of them in the last 5 years. As a result, 3,478 Cubans had died, and 2,099 suffered disabilities. In Miami, safe shelter was offered to those who funded, planned and carried out terrorist acts with absolute impunity, tolerated by the United States Government.

Giving examples of terrorist activities against his country, he said that instead of bringing to trial the eight individuals who had hijacked a Cuban plane last November, the United States had provided them with asylum. On 7 February, despite the "orange" anti-terrorist alert in the United States, a Cuban coastguard boat with four armed men arrived and docked in Key West, without being stopped.

On 16 January, Cuba had declassified abundant files about the terrorists who freely acted in Miami. They had been submitted to high-ranking Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) officers in Havana in 1998. Instead of punishing the terrorists, the FBI had arrested five people who had been trying to obtain information about the terrorist groups based in Miami and those young men were condemned to unjust and long jail sentences, two of them for life.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, MARIA TELALIAN (Greece) said that the United Nations had successfully established a comprehensive legal framework in the field of counter-terrorism, and its 12 conventions and protocols were of crucial importance. The Union supported the early conclusion by consensus of the negotiations on the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism. The draft submitted on the initiative of India should provide an added value in relation to previous anti-terrorist conventions by filling the gaps of unregulated issues. However, the "acquis" of the existing conventions, which was a considerable achievement, must be preserved. The Union believed the sectorial approach followed by the United Nations in the negotiation of anti-terrorist conventions was the most successful one.

The Union would continue to work towards an early adoption by consensus of the international convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism, she said, the draft of which had been presented by the Russian Federation. That was a pressing and urgent need. Also on the agenda of the Ad Hoc Committee was the question of convening a high-level conference under the auspices of the United Nations to formulate a joint organized response of the international community to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The Union reiterated its readiness to discuss such a project after the conclusion of the work on the comprehensive convention, insofar as such a conference could lead to a strengthening of the international cooperation in combating terrorism.

STEPHEN BARRIGA (Liechtenstein) pointed out that each and every action taken by a State or the international community in the fight against terrorism must be rooted in a clear legal authorization to that effect. The task before the Ad Hoc Committee was also embedded in an international context, which was certainly not favourable to finding solutions in just three days. The draft convention, which should be finalized as soon as possible, had the potential of becoming a real landmark document, which would not only give the fight against terrorism a new short-term impact, but would also frame and shape those efforts over years and decades to come. The Committee should try to distance its work as much as possible from political considerations.

The world was subject to constant change, he added, but delegations were called upon to formulate the rules that were meant to last. They needed to seek guidance from their common and lasting principles, including those of the United Nations Charter. The fight against terrorism also must never lose sight of the well-established standards of human rights and the rule of law, which terrorists aimed to destroy.

MANIMUTHU GANDHI (India) said that, having been exposed to the depredation of terrorism for decades, his country had always taken a strong stand on the question of countering international terrorism. Terrorism was a common enemy to all people and violated the most fundamental of all human rights, namely the right to life. Terrorism was defined with reference to the act and its consequences, not by a description of the perpetrator of the act and ascribing labels to him. Terrorists were criminals and rationalisms advanced by the advocates of the "root causes" of terrorism could not absolve terrorists from their culpability.

Member States had so far successfully developed a legal framework of 12 international Conventions to address specific aspects of international terrorism, he said. The Indian proposal for the early conclusion of a comprehensive convention had been under the Committee's active consideration. While the Committee had been successful in reaching agreement on most of the draft Convention's provisions, some important provisions were still outstanding. The comprehensive convention should not override, but add value to the sectoral conventions. The early adoption of the comprehensive convention would send a strong signal that the international community was determined to work together towards the destruction of terrorism at its roots.

MOHAMMED HAJ IBRAHIM (Syria) condemned terrorism in all its forms and called for cooperation among all States to take the necessary measures to prevent and combat it. The war against international terrorism must take into consideration the principles of international law and must be waged in the context of international legality. Daily crimes committed by Israel against Arab peoples in the occupied territories and the Golan Heights were terrorist crimes. Israeli practices of State terrorism against the Palestinian people were illegal acts carried out under the pretext of self-defence. The situation in Iraq was also increasing the number of terrorist activities. What was now taking place outside of the Security Council represented an explicit violation of the Charter and international law and was destabilizing trust in international relationships.

The Committee's action, as well as that of the working group, represented a major step in waging the combat against terrorism, he said. The draft comprehensive convention must fill the gaps not yet addressed in other conventions, namely a clear definition of terrorism, which distinguished between terrorism and a legitimate struggle of peoples against foreign occupation. No exceptions must be made for acts taken by armed forces if they were not legitimate and under the United Nations Charter and international law. On the issue of nuclear terrorism, Syria was ready to cooperate so that dangerous phenomenon could be eliminated.

SOUMAIA ZORAI (Tunisia) said that finalizing the draft on the suppression of nuclear terrorism must be the focus of attention. The general convention on international terrorism should tackle all the aspects of the problem, particularly the new ones, consolidating the efforts of the international community in the fight against terrorism. However, in order to combat the phenomenon of terrorism effectively, it was necessary to adopt a general approach, which would take into account the issues of under-development and poverty.

In that spirit, she called to include in the general convention a paragraph relating to the need for States to address the underlying causes of international terrorism. She hoped consensus would be achieved, taking into consideration the concerns of all parties, including those of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement. She also recalled that her country's President had proposed to elaborate a general code of conduct in the fight against terrorism. At the latest Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur, heads of State and Government had responded favourably to that proposal.

LYA TIDJANI (Cameroon) said the only appropriate response to terrorism was unwavering solidarity and international concerted action. Nothing could excuse terrorism. Whatever its pretext, terrorism was unacceptable. Cameroon supported the idea of convening a high level conference on a joint response to terrorism. Although the issue was properly placed in the Committee's mandate, it had not been given proper attention. Whatever its format, such a conference would give fresh impetus to the global coalition against terrorism.

The United Nations must play a crucial role in providing a juridical framework to address terrorism, he continued. The Sixth Committee (Legal) was essential in that regard. The time had come to move from condemning terrorism to taking specific action. One day, terrorists would use weapons of mass destruction. The focus must be on the two draft conventions. The international community placed high hopes on the Committee's work. The Committee's deliberations must unfold under the watchword of "compromise". With political goodwill, the Committee would be able to settle all pending issues.

IMRAN AHMAD SIDDIQUI MASUD (Pakistan) said that at a recent Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur, the heads of State and Government had rejected attempts to equate the legitimate fight against foreign occupation and oppression with terror. The fate of negotiations in the Committee depended on whether that opinion of 116 States - the majority of the United Nations -- was respected. In itself, the right of self-determination was not controversial. It had been recognized by international law, including earlier conventions on terrorism.

HALY COLLUMS (United States) reiterated his delegation's interest in furthering the Committee's work, both regarding the draft comprehensive convention and the convention on nuclear terrorism. Once successfully concluded, they would contribute to the overall framework of legal instruments adopted by the United Nations in developing a comprehensive framework to combat terrorism. While important issues yet to be addressed included article 2 and 2 bis, the main issue was with article 18, namely the scope of the convention and the role of its application to the activities of military forces.

The Committee should concentrate on the texts before it, he continued. The United States rededicated itself to searching for acceptable legal language to work out a binding international instrument. He was disturbed to hear some delegations attempt to interject political issues into the work of a technical and legal Committee. Such issues, which in some cases were bilateral, should be addressed by other bodies. He urged the Committee to focus on the texts of the international conventions, and not attempt to achieve something beyond its expertise.

TAL BECKER (Israel) said that he was compelled to respond to baseless allegations by Syria. Israel supported the drafts submitted by India and the Russian Federation and the work invested in drafting effective law-enforcement instruments to combat terrorism. Many recent acts of terrorism, including those involving suicide bombings, had been instigated by their glorification as martyrdom. He objected to inserting politically motivated language in the draft conventions, making a difference between "good" and "bad" terrorism. There had never been a terrorist group that did not try to justify its actions by some noble cause. Nothing justified terrorism, and the text being elaborated in the Committee should not do so, either.

The remarks he was responding to had come from a regime that had responsibility for many terrorist actions, he added. In one of the most recent terrorist acts against his country, it had been the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was based in Damascus, that claimed responsibility. That highlighted the danger of adopting the language seeking to justify terror, instead of preventing it. Considerable compromise had already been made in the negotiations on the general convention, and he rejected any further attempts to undermine the text. Self-determination did not justify killing innocents in its name. In the efforts to create a law-enforcement instrument, there should be no acceptance of those seeking to justify terrorist acts.

SIDIG MOHAMED ABDALLA (Sudan), on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), strongly condemned all acts of terrorism and said it was important that the international community work together to prevent terrorism by engaging in closer cooperation. He fully shared the Secretary-General's view that response to terrorist acts should be through reaffirmation of the rule of law. He hoped for further progress on the Convention, which would give a proper framework to efforts to combat terrorism. The OIC member States reiterated its commitment to the Committee's important work and called on all States to cooperate proactively in resolving outstanding issues.

In crafting a comprehensive convention, a clear, universally agreed definition of terrorism was needed, he said. Acts of terrorism on civilian populations should be differentiated between the legal struggles of people seeking liberation. Any discussion of international terrorism would not be complete without a discussion of the threat of nuclear terrorism. The early adoption of an international convention would be a step towards eliminating that threat. The international community must unearth the source of the problem. Terrorists would continue to haunt mankind unless the causes of terrorism, including the denial of fundamental human rights, were addressed.

MOHAMMED AL-AJAJY (Saudi Arabia) supported the position of the OIC, which had been presented by the representative of the Sudan. He hoped the Committee could reach agreement on the pending issues, including the comprehensive convention on international terrorism and the convention on suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism. His country stood ready to positively contribute to the work on both drafts.

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, Syria's representative said the Committee had witnessed attempts to create confusion, saying that political issues should not be involved in the work of the Committee. Some wanted to restrict the application of legal principles, including the Charter of the United Nations, when that suited their ends. The representative of the Israeli occupying forces had tried to picture Israel as an innocent party, subjected to terror, while the State of Israel had been conducting organized terrorism.

As the political history of that State demonstrated, several of its Prime Ministers had been involved in massacres. The country's present Prime Minister, for example, was wanted for the massacres committed at the time when he had been the Minister of Defence. The cycle of Israel's terror did not make any exceptions. Recently, Israel had killed a young American activist who had come to the Middle East in the name of peace. Using the newest technology, Israel had killed over 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the last two years. After that, Israel then asked that the discussions in the Committee not be politicized.

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* Press Release L/3026, dated 11 March, should have been L/3027.