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Report Terrorism

Ms. Katarina Grenfell from the Office of the Legal Counsel introduced us to the topic of international terrorism. She first stressed the importance of defining terrorism. Only then can consensus on how to fight this phenomenon be reached. However, consensus on an internationally accepted definition of terrorism has not yet been reached.

Therefore, the question of how to deal with terrorism was raised. Should the international community just seek to understand terrorism, or rather implement measures to fight the threat? How can the phenomenon be defined? Furthermore, it seems necessary to analyse and obtain a good overview of the root causes of terrorism in order to be able to fight this threat efficiently.

Ms. Grenfell paid special attention to the question which elements should be included in the definition of terrorism. One of the most recent attempts to define terrorism taken from the High Level Panel Report excluded national liberation movements from the definition. No agreement has yet been reached on this aspect. Furthermore, the concept of State terrorism is also very controversial. The question was posed if it can possibly be treated equally to non-state terrorism. According to our speaker a further obstacle in reaching a common definition is the question whether a right to resistance in times of occupation exists.

Ms. Grenfell underlined that human rights were finally getting more attention in the fight against terrorism. In this context, she referred to the speech held by the Secretary-General Kofi Annan during the March 2005 High Level Conference on terrorism in Madrid, in which he called for the enforcement of human rights protection. The difficult balance between human rights and the fight against terrorism may be illustrated by the fate of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who, according to the US-American Government, are not regarded as prisoners of war and therefore are not subject to the Geneva Conventions.

Ms. Grenfell stressed that the United Nations and its agencies have developed a wide range of international legal instruments aimed at enabling the international community to take action to suppress terrorism and to bring those responsible to justice. Twelve United Nations anti-terrorism conventions exist to date.

Ms. Grenfell gave us a short summary of the historical development of the fight against terrorism undertaken within the United Nations system. The main focus of her presentation was set on the developments after September 11th 2001. She summarised the numerous recent legal developments while at the same time underlining the elements that have not undergone any change.

Two weeks after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373. It calls on Member States to contain the financing of terrorism, to refrain from providing support to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts and to deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit them. The Council also established the Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC) to monitor the resolution’s implementation. Member States have been asked to regularly report to the Council on their progress in the implementation of the measures mentioned above. Ms. Grenfell stressed that as this resolution was adopted while acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter it directly binds all of the United Nations Member States.

Progress has also been made in the area of nuclear terrorism. The Legal Committee of the General Assembly is currently elaborating on two conventions: a convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism, as well as a comprehensive convention on the elimination of terrorism.

Ms. Grenfell stressed that today it is more than ever necessary to improve the United Nations system and to increase the efforts in prevention as well as to address the root causes of terrorism, instead of merely dealing with its results. Therefore Ms. Grenfell concluded by raising the following question: “Could better access to resources be the key to stopping terrorism?”

Catherine Dubreuil