4th March 2001
|NEW YORK— When Rohan Perera, Legal
Adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was elected chairman of the
UN Adhoc Committee on Terrorism about two years ago, the Canadian Ambassador
Philippe Kirsch, patted him on the back and joked: “Congratulations, you
are going to be chairman for life.”
Kirsch, who himself chaired a UN Working Group that finalized the international convention against terrorist funding, may be right in implicitly expressing his sympathies along with his best wishes.
The Committee that Rohan chairs is faced with several formidable hurdles because of the extremely controversial nature of the three tasks assigned to it.
First, it has to seek consensus on a longstanding proposal for an international conference on terrorism (which some sceptics say may never see the light of day).
Second, resolve outstanding issues relating to the creation of a new international convention against nuclear terrorism.
And third, finalize “a comprehensive convention on international terrorism” within the legal framework of the existing 12 conventions (this new one may well be the mother of all terrorist conventions).
Until all three tasks are accomplished (which really means achieving a consensus among the 189 UN member states with disparate views on terrorism), the Adhoc Committee will go on and on.
The Sri Lanka delegation to the sessions last week gained added political and legal muscle: Ambassador H.M.G.S. Palihakkara (currently on his way to his new posting in Bangkok via Geneva who handled the backstage political manoeu-vering) and Siro Gopallawa (temporarily airlifted from the Sri Lanka embassy in Washington DC to handle the knotty legal issues). The Committee ended a two week session at a particularly inauspicious time: the spiralling violence in the Middle East which really slowed down the progress towards the creation of the new UN treaty.
The continued killings of Palestinians by Israel - over 350 since last September - and the aerial bombardment of Iraq by British and US fighter planes, sparked a combative debate on the subject of state terrorism
“We have made significant progress, but there are still several important issues outstanding,” Rohan told the Committee in measured diplomatic tones.
In non-diplomatic jargon, it really meant: “We are stuck— and in deep trouble.”
Among the deadlocked issues: the distinction between terrorism and legitimate freedom struggle, and between “state terrorism” and “acts of self-defence” by state governments.
Syria, Lebanon and Iraq argued that Israeli, British and American acts of violence in the Middle East are clearly “state terrorism”, which they say, should be recognized in the proposed new convention.
Cuba, on the other hand, has accused the United States of organising and financing groups of mercenaries to carry out “terrorist acts” against the Cuban government and its leadership.
Any comprehensive UN convention against terrorism should, therefore, include laws against terrorist acts undertaken or sponsored by state governments, these countries point out.
But the United States argues that the proposed convention should deal only with acts of terrorism by individuals or by groups of individuals.
All state action can be covered, as it is now, only by international law, including human rights treaties and the Geneva Conventions governing military conflicts.
Currently, there are 12 UN and international conventions dealing with terrorism - ranging from a treaty against hijacking to a treaty protecting nuclear material.
The last two conventions adopted by the General Assembly were the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of Financing for Terrorism.
Editorial/ Opinion Contents
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