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Current Status of the Comprehensive and Nuclear Terrorism Conventions



Susan Philipose
Intern, Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy
February 12, 2002


The Ad Hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate Terrorism (established by resolution 51/210) convened on January 28, 2002, hoping to finalize the drafts of the comprehensive anti-terrorism convention and the nuclear anti-terrorism convention. After a week of informal consultations and discussion, ending on February 1, 2002, disagreements over several key issues have prevented the emergence of treaties acceptable to all state delegates.

The aim of the draft comprehensive convention is to "define terrorism, urge domestic legislation and the establishment of jurisdiction and to ensure that States parties do not grant asylum to any person involved in a terrorist act." (Press Release L/2993, 2/1/02) In prior sessions, representatives could not reach agreement on the preamble to the treaty, article 1 on definitions of terms used in the treaty, article 2 on the definition of terrorism and article 18. At the end of most recent session, representatives made some progress, but they were still heavily debating Article 18. The Coordinator, Richard Rowe (Australia), reported that the outcome of the treaty would depend heavily on the decision for Article 18 on the exemption of armed forces from the scope of the treaty. Rowe proposed a draft that he prepared at the end of the October 2001 session, which exempted the activities of "armed forces…inasmuch as they are governed by other rules of international law." Meanwhile, the Organization of the Islamic Conference proposed changes, which would exempt the activities of "parties during an armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation…in conformity with international law." (A/AC.252/2002/CRP.1/Add.1) The OIC wants to ensure that the "armed struggle against foreign occupation…shall not be considered a terrorist crime," and their version of article 18 would seemingly prevent certain oppressed groups, like the Palestinians, from being more criminalized under the treaty than a state’s armed forces. (UN Wire, 2/4/2002)

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the text of the current draft would criminalize acts committed in an internal conflict, which are not prohibited by international humanitarian law. The current draft also would conceivably allow armed forces to engage in "terrorist" acts during peacetime, in article 18(2), by exempting "activities undertaken by the military forces of a State in the exercise of their official duties". Furthermore, the organizations felt that the language of articles 14 and 15 may imply that states do not need to fully comply with international refugee protection standards and that Article 2(4) could limit freedom of speech for people who may have similar political beliefs to an identified terrorist group. (Comprehensive Convention Against International Terrorism Joint Letter - Amnesty International/ Human Rights Watch) States have tried to address some of the issues by using new language on the preamble for the "protection of human rights."

The draft comprehensive treaty attempts to define terrorism, in contrast to the twelve other terrorism treaties, which labeled certain acts as terrorist without actually defining terrorism, but this aspect of the treaty will depend on the final decision regarding the scope. In addition, delegates have to decide the comprehensive treaty’s jurisdictional relationship to the existing sectoral treaties, and to future terrorism treaties. (Press Release L/2993, 2/1/02)

Progress on the nuclear terrorism treaty had also slowed because of the question of its scope. The draft initially read, "The activities of armed forces during an armed conflict, as those terms are understood under international humanitarian law…are not governed by this convention". Disagreements arose over the proposal for the article, from Mexico, saying "This convention does not address, nor can it be interpreted as addressing in any way , the issue of the legality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by States." (A/AC.252/2002/CRP.1/Add.1) A Mexican delegate said that the proposal is meant to clarify that the treaty does not imply the legality of use of nuclear weapons by States, so that the issue can be discussed further in disarmament forums. While many states support the draft and the proposal, some states feel that it has not gone far enough towards nuclear disarmament. An OIC delegate said that the proposal would retain the "exceptional" status of the nuclear weapon states. (UN Wire, 2/4/2002))

The Coordinator feels that progress has been made in understanding different delegates’ positions, which points need to be addressed and that countries should make an effort to consult with one another and come up with creative solutions until the committee reconvenes in October. (A/AC.252/2002/CRP.1/Add.1)


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