Our briefing on terrorism was held by Mr Mitchell Hsieh who works as a Public Information Officer at the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) whose main task is to support the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC). The CTC was established by Security Council Resolution S/RES/1373 (2001), in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The CTED monitors the implementation of this resolution. This is achieved mostly through reports by Member States, but also through publicly available information provided by the internet or the press, or country visits.
However, terrorism has already been a topic within the UN since the 1960s. International conventions cover a variety of topics dealing with terrorist actions, such as hijacking. In the past years, the General Assembly has been trying to fill the legal gap between these conventions by creating a comprehensive convention on terrorism on the basis of an internationally accepted definition of terrorism. Unfortunately, this remains a difficult attempt due to the number and cultural variety of the UN Member States. Nevertheless, operating under the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy remains the key for successful counter-terrorism operations, especially since the preparations for terrorist attacks mostly take place in another than the target country, and as in the case of September 11, may involve a variety of countries.
To create an effective counter-terrorism network, the technical and operational needs of all Member States must be identified by the CTC. This can only be reached by regular country visits and meetings with officials. Not only needs but also existing expertise must be gathered to serve as best practice for other states. Therefore, a taskforce of 24 UN agencies is assisting states with their national plans. Currently, it is still too early to see how effective the taskforce will be, especially since one of its main tasks remains the acquisition of donors. Moreover, more expertise is needed; hence the Secretary-General has already devoted more effort to this topic in the formation of a small unit to deal with requests from Member States.
All the information the CTC collects is published in the Global Implementation Survey which serves as a basis for recommendations on the improvement of the countries’ anti-terrorism provisions but also for discussions within the Security Council. In general, the following questions have to be kept in mind when the information is collected: Has the country signed and ratified any anti-terrorism convention or is preparing to do so? How strong is the country’s financial sector in dealing with suspicious or illegal transactions? How far developed is the apparatus for airport security and customs? Questions regarding human rights versus counter-terrorism measures are also important for States to consider, and a good balance between human rights and counter-terrorism measures must be kept at all times.
Another question concerned the issue of monitoring terrorist activities in the absence of an internationally accepted definition of terrorism. Mr Hsieh told us, that there are nevertheless the 16 conventions on terrorism which have been signed and ratified by most Member States. This legal framework serves as a basis to determine violent acts as being terrorist or not. Moreover, there is an operative definition of terrorism, which declares inter alia that all criminal activity that is proceeded to compel governments towards certain actions or to refrain from actions, is considered an act of terrorism. However, most terrorist acts are performed by non-state actors or rebel groups. This is a problem that must be further addressed and the efforts on finding an international definition on terrorism need to be continued.
Finally, we would like to thank Mr Hsieh for this very interesting and informative briefing.