What is Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism? Throw light on concerns and challenges in its adoption.

Published: May 3, 2018

The Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is a proposed treaty which intends to criminalize all forms of international terrorism and deny terrorists, their financiers and supporters access to funds, arms, and safe havens.
The negotiations for this treaty are currently under way has been under negotiation at the United Nations General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee established by Resolution 51/210 of 17 December 1996 on Terrorism and the United Nations General Assembly Sixth Committee (Legal). 
Challenges in its adoption
By and large there is a unanimous acceptance on the fact that there is a need for a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. But the deadlock has been due to lack of consensus on the key provision of definition of terrorism.
For example, what distinguishes a “terrorist organisation” from a ‘liberation movement’? And do you exclude activities of national armed forces, even if they are perceived to commit acts of terrorism? If not, how much of this constitutes ‘state terrorism’?”
The definition of the crime of terrorism which has been on the negotiating table of the Comprehensive Convention since 2002 reads as follows:
Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person, by any means, unlawfully and intentionally, causes:

  • Death or serious bodily injury to any person; or
  • Serious damage to public or private property, including a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or the environment; or
  • Damage to property, places, facilities, or systems referred to in paragraph1 (b) of this article, resulting or likely to result in major economic loss,when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”

This definition is not controversial in itself; the deadlock in the negotiations arises instead from the opposing views on whether such a definition would be applicable to the armed forces of a state and to Self-determination movements. The coordinator of the negotiations, supported by most western delegations, proposed the following exceptions to address those issues:

  • Nothing in this Convention shall affect other rights, obligations and responsibilities of States, peoples and individuals under international law, in particular the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and international humanitarian law.
  • The activities of armed forcesduring an armed conflict, as those terms are understood under international humanitarian law, which are governed by that law, are not governed by this Convention.
  • The activities undertaken by the military forces of a State in the exercise of their official duties, inasmuch as they are governedby other rules of international law, are not governed by this Convention.
  • Nothing in this article condones or makes lawful otherwise unlawful acts, nor precludes prosecution under other laws.

The state members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference proposed instead the following exceptions:

  • The activities of the partiesduring an armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation, as those terms are understood under international humanitarian law, which are governed by that law, are not governed by this Convention.
  • The activities undertaken by the military forces of a State in the exercise of their official duties, inasmuch as they are in conformitywith international law, are not governed by this Convention.

Concerns:  

  • This inability to develop a comprehensive convention against terrorism has resulted in inability on part of UN to effectively counter the menace of terrorism through coordinated efforts.
  • The differentiation of good and bad terrorism is creating havoc in regions like Afghanistan and Kashmir.
  • State sponsored terrorism is complicating the internal security.

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