Issue 76: Negotiations on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism

The UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism is deadlocked in its negotiations on a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. At issue is Article 18, the exclusions clause, to which the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has proposed adding language which would exclude “those who fight against colonial domination from foreign occupation in the exercise of their legitimate right” from being defined as terrorists.

Analysis: The OIC proposal to condone the murder of Israeli civilians should disgust the other delegations and elicit forceful rebukes. Unfortunately, Rohan Perera, the Sri Lankan chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee, has called for delegates to be “creative and innovative” in seeking compromise language for Article 18 in order to achieve consensus. Instead of following the path of obfuscation, the delegates should heed Kofi Annan’s call for “moral clarity” in the terrorism definition debate.

Aside from moral considerations, the resolution of this debate has practical consequences for the integrity of the counter-terrorism efforts of the UN. Security Council resolution 1373 obliges all states to implement a series of actions to suppress terrorism and to report to the Council’s Anti-Terrorism Committee. The lack of a terrorism definition allowed Syria – a member of the Security Council and also a state-sponsor of Hezbollah and several Palestinian terrorist groups – to respond to the Anti-Terrorism Committee implicitly excluding terrorism directed at Israeli citizens:

“Since Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) does not define the concept of terrorism or specify the terrorist acts and entities that must be suppressed, in the preparation of the present report Syria has based itself on its commitments as a party to the 1998 Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, which distinguishes between terrorism and legitimate struggle against foreign occupation…”

Though Lebanon followed Syria’s example and submitted a report with a similar proviso, not all OIC countries have done so. Egypt, Kuwait, and Bahrain have submitted reports without any mention of distinctions for terrorism against Israel.

The debate on Article 18 provides another opportunity for UN member states to demonstrate that counter-terrorism is not anti-Islamic. The majority of the OIC states – which do not support terrorism – should not allow the Islamic bloc to be manipulated by a few of their disreputable members. The other states involved in the negotiations should remain steadfast in their refusal to acquiesce to the OIC’s immoral proposal.

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