Mr. Janos Tisovsky works for the Department of Public Information in the United Nations Secretariat and clearly showed during his briefing that he was dealing with a complex and continually “hot” topic. He began his presentation by asking why terrorism was an international and not only a national problem, and why the United Nations should play a role in the fight against terrorism.
At first, he explained his view on the duty of the UN and how this could lead to some problems. On the one hand, the UN was a structure consisting of countless organizations, bodies, committees and negotiation rounds. On the other hand, there was the Secretariat as one of the main bodies which was often recognized by the public as the United Nations as such. The Secretariat provided a “minimum of guidance“, leading the work of the whole UN system which was sometimes accepted by the UN Member States, sometimes not, as Mr. Tisovsky told us.
He went on by answering the questions raised in the beginning: Why was international terrorism a problem of the international community? Mr. Tisovsky said that states alone could not cope with the wide-ranging challenge of this threat, as terrorism did not know any borders. Furthermore, concerning the definition of terrorism and the search for the appropriate measures to counter terrorism, no single state had the legitimization to act alone. This point became clear in the ongoing debate about a common definition of terrorism. The already existing definition did not find any majority within the United Nations. A multilateral approach, such as the framework the United Nations provided with the Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC), gave the possibility to legitimize the fight against terrorism and delegitimize terrorist acts. In addition, our speaker said that self-determination played a central role in the debate about a definition of terrorism. Mr. Tisovsky stressed that in his opinion, as long as the conflicts regarding self-determination were not solved, peace and security were endangered. If all countries obeyed the conventions dealing with this topic, potential conflicts could be solved. Especially the everlasting Palestine question bore high conflict potential. In Mr. Tisovsky’s understanding, the United Nations was the right place to fight terrorism although it was not only a state problem, as it included non-state actors. The United Nations were the forum which provided a legal framework for the international fight against terrorism and had a broad mandate to act through its 191 Member States. Therefore, the UN was the most effective international cooperation on terrorism and was able to mobilize a lot of resources.
Nevertheless, the United Nations needed the support of every single Member State because fighting terrorism was primarily a task for the states; this meant according to our speaker that states had to lead investigations and enforce provisions. The UN was not able to carry out these duties. According to Mr. Tisovsky, the CTC provided a forum for affected states to negotiate on the highest level and to find a consensus on how to treat terrorist non-state actors. Terrorism had already been on the agenda of the League of Nations and had been discussed in the United Nations right from the beginning. For example, the kidnapping of Israeli athletes by the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September during the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 had been discussed within the United Nations. After the collapse of the Eastern Block, non-state terrorism had increased, he stressed, in reality as well as in the perception of international diplomats. The first reaction of the UN had been institutionalized in 1996 by establishing an Ad-hoc committee (Res.51/210; 17th December 1996). This committee worked out three conventions: The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings adopted by General Assembly Resolution 52/164 (15 December 1997) to fight terrorist bomb attacks; the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism adopted by General Assembly Resolution 54/109 (9 December 1999) to stop the financing of terrorist groups; and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism adopted by General Assembly Resolution 59/290 (13 April 2005) in order to fight nuclear terrorism. Only after the attacks of 11 September 2001 had the majority of the UN Member States found consensus on the fact that the fight against terrorism would have to be strengthened. The CTC, which publishes reports on international terrorism each year, was one of these outcomes, he explained.
By Resolution 1373 (2001), the Security Council had introduced the CTC to supervise the implementation of the measures which had been agreed upon previously. In Mr. Tisovsky’s opinion, during the past few years, no Member State had been lacking the political will to fight terrorism according to the existing resolutions. However, in many cases, there was a lack of capacity to succeed over the well-equipped terrorist networks.
Lena Marie Boers, Dominik Duell