No Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism… Yet

At the beginning of the 56th session of the General Assembly, and in the wake of September 11th, everyone seemed hopeful and almost convinced that the work of the General Assembly on the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism would be successfully concluded in a speedy manner. This regrettably was not the case. The Ad Hoc Committee concluded its second meeting for the session, held from 28 January to 1 February 2002, without reaching consensus.

Some parties argue that Arab and Islamic countries (with more countries supporting them) insisted on differentiating between terrorism on the one hand and the struggle against foreign occupation and for self-determination on the other hand, thus blocking consensus. Others argue that it was the other way around – that some parties insisted on a broad definition for terrorism, coupled with an exemption for military forces and a refusal to exclude situations of armed conflict, including foreign occupation, that are normally covered by international humanitarian law. Insistence on all three points combined essentially constitutes an attempt to change existing international law governing armed conflict and maybe even to negate Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

Irrespective of the arguments, there is no doubt that the situation in the Middle East heavily impacted the work of the Committee. However, there were also other issues that did not enjoy consensus and influenced its work. In fact, three issues remain open: article 2 dealing with the definition of terrorism; article 2 bis dealing with the relationship of the Convention with existing treaties; and article 18 dealing with the scope of application. While some important progress was achieved, the completion of the draft Convention appears to hinge on reaching a compromise package deal with regard to all such outstanding issues.

Palestine participated actively in the deliberations of the Ad Hoc Committee and we believe that a lot of flexibility was shown and that no exemption was sought. In fact, what was sought was the respect for the principle of adherence to all instruments of international humanitarian law and not allowing any party to abuse this Convention for their own narrow, and often times illegitimate, purposes.