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Kishore asked: What are the key hurdles to the adoption of the UN Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism?

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  • Arpita Anant replies: India tabled a Draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in the UN General Assembly in 1996 (A/C.6/51/6, November 11, 1996). The thrust of the convention was to ensure state support to prosecute or extradite those who have committed acts of terrorism in a third country. To take forward the discussion on this Convention, and two other terrorism-related matters, the General Assembly adopted a resolution in 1999 which mandated setting up of a Working Group in the Sixth (Legal) Committee of the General Assembly that would report to the Ad Hoc Committee set up in 1996.

    The Coordinator of the Working Group submitted a new draft of the Convention in 2002. Simultaneously, an alternate rendering of some articles/paragraphs was tabled by the Organisation of Islamic Conference/Cooperation (OIC), which received support of some countries. The OIC intervention was mainly related to actions that must be included in the Convention as criminal/terrorist (some paragraphs of Article 2) and actions that must be excluded from the purview of Convention (some paragraphs of Article 18). As regards Article 2, it was argued that there is a need to distinguish acts of terrorism from movements for self-determination so that legitimate movements are not labeled as criminal acts of terrorism. Several of the acts listed in the Draft were actually legal as per the international humanitarian law (IHL) and so, rather than increasing its scope, it was felt that there was an urgent need to define terrorism. There was also a case for including acts of ‘state-terrorism’ in the purview of the convention. Regarding Article 18, it was argued that there was a need to exclude from the purview of the Convention actions of all ‘parties’ to armed conflict rather than only those of the state’s military forces, since they were already governed by IHL. It was important to state explicitly that acts of armed forces did not enjoy impunity. It was also felt that there needed to be a specific reference to the foreign occupation.

    The next working draft presented by the Coordinator of the Working Group in 2007 took on board some aspects of the OIC draft, though not exactly as envisaged by the group. Reference to self-determination was included in the preamble, rather than in the operative parts of the Convention. Specific articles were added to convey that where IHL was applicable, it would take precedence over the new Convention. Specific articles were also added to convey the non-impunity of acts of armed forces during the armed conflict that fall in the purview of IHL or are otherwise illegal. The other arguments were not taken on board for legal reasons. The issue of defining terrorism, focusing on state terrorism and foreign occupation, and equating all parties to an armed conflict in the context of a convention on terrorism was not agreed to on legal grounds.

    Since then, the key hurdle to the adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism has been the lack of political will on the part of some countries to accept this fairly nuanced draft. The political impasse however continues.

    Posted on July 17, 2018