Mr. Mitchell Hsieh works for the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) as Public Information Officer. The CTC was established by S/RES/1373 (2001) with a mandate to monitor the resolution’s implementation by the UN member states. He gave us a very interesting briefing on the different aspects of international terrorism and various counter-terrorism practices. Furthermore he was open to our questions that were in parts quite critical towards the international practices.
The speaker started by giving us a short overview of international terrorism in world history. On 21 December 1988, the Jumbo Clipper Maid of Seas, operated by the American Airline Pan Am, was the target of what is considered the first terrorist attack that made its way to the United Nations Security Council. Almost four years after the Jumbo had exploded over the Scottish village of Lockerbie, the Security Council called in S/RES/748 the support of international terrorism a threat to international peace and security. Since this first careful reference of international terrorism in the halls of the Headquarters, international and especially radical religious terrorism was on the agenda of the Security Council almost permanently, and influenced the policies of almost all governments worldwide.
In 1999, the Security Council asked the Afghan government with resolution S/RES/1267 (1999) to hand over Osama bin Laden who was (and still is) considered the head of an international terrorist network called Al-Qaida. After the Taliban-ruled regime in Afghanistan had not responded positively to the Security Council’s request and the United States had faced the worst attacks on American soil on 11 September 2001, the Security Council called international terrorism a threat to international peace and security in its resolution S/RES/1373 (2001). With this resolution, the United Nations opened a new door to counter-terrorism actions under international law. In addition, the CTC was founded and all UN member states were asked to report their counter-terrorism activities to the committee. With resolution S/RES/1540 (2004), the United Nations faced the hot topic of international nuclear terrorism (also a topic during the NMUN 2007 Conference) and came up with a first and very careful definition of terrorism in international law. Resolution S/RES/1535 (2004) improved the existing counter-terrorism instruments by establishing the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) to assist the CTC. The newly established CTED is workplace to approximately 40 experts on terrorism, among them 24 lawyers. The CTED also added the dimension of Human Rights to the CTC by assigning a Senior Human Rights Officer with the responsibility to liaise with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Terrorism about human rights and counter-terrorism related issues. Resolution S/RES/1566 (2004), which had been sponsored by the Russian Federation, emphasized the role of the victims of terrorist attacks and created an international fund. It also gave the first global definition of terrorism and expanded the list for targeted sanctions (sanctions against individuals). Shortly after the London subway bombing on 7 July 2005, the Security Council passed S/RES/1624 (2005) that asked the governments to strengthen the dialogue among civilisations. In addition to the tight framework of Security Council resolutions, the United Nations sponsored 13 multilateral conventions on international terrorism.
Having the unique opportunity to ask an expert about such a crucial issue, we confronted Mr. Hsieh with various questions on the topic. How would the United Nations tackle the topic of terrorism? Mr. Hsieh pointed out that the UN not only dealt with counter-terrorism activities but also with the prevention of terrorism by attacking the roots of extremism. One tool to do so was humanitarian aid. Besides numerous other bits of information we learned that the world is experiencing 100 terrorist attacks per month, 50% of them taking place in Iraq. Although different figures would use different definitions of terrorist attacks, the large number of attacks shocked us.
Having this in mind, we left the briefing with the sad certainty that terrorism was not just part of the NMUN 2007 Conference or the work of the United Nations, but part of the world we live in.