UNITED NATIONS ACTION TO COUNTER TERRORISM

International Legal Instruments

Terrorism has been on the international agenda since 1934, when the League of Nations took the first major step towards outlawing the scourge by discussing a draft convention for the prevention and punishment of terrorism. Although the Convention was eventually adopted in 1937, it never came into force.

Since 1963, the international community has elaborated 14 universal legal instruments and four amendments to prevent terrorist acts. Those instruments were developed under the auspices of the United Nations and its specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and are open to participation by all Member States. In 2005, the international community also introduced substantive changes to three of these universal instruments to specifically account for the threat of terrorism; on 8 July of that year States adopted the Amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and on 14 October they agreed to both the Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the Protocol of 2005 to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf.

Two more legal instruments were added in 2010: the 2010 Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation and the 2010 Protocol Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft. These treaties further criminalize the act of using civil aircraft as a weapon, and of using dangerous materials to attack aircraft or other targets on the ground. The unlawful transport of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and their related material becomes punishable under the treaties. Moreover, directors and organizers of attacks against aircraft and airports will have no safe haven. Making a threat against civil aviation may also trigger criminal liability.

Currently Member States are negotiating an additional international treaty, a draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism. This convention would complement the existing framework of international anti-terrorism instruments and would build on key guiding principles already present in recent anti-terrorist conventions:  the importance of criminalization of terrorist offences, making them punishable by law and calling for prosecution or extradition of the perpetrators; the need to eliminate legislation which establishes exceptions to such criminalization on political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or similar grounds; a strong call for Member States to take action to prevent terrorist acts; and emphasis on the need for Member States to cooperate, exchange information and provide each other with the greatest measure of assistance in connection with the prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorist acts.

In the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy which was adopted by the General Assembly on 8 September 2006, Member States underscored the importance of existing international counter-terrorism instruments by pledging to consider becoming parties to them without delay and implementing their provisions.

International Conventions

Here is a summary of the 14 major legal instruments and additional amendments dealing with terrorism. (for the full text of the convention see: United Nations Treaty Collection, conventions on terrorism):

1. 1963 Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft
(Aircraft Convention)

2. 1970 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft
(Unlawful Seizure Convention)

2010 Protocol Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft

3. 1971 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation
(Civil Aviation Convention)

4. 1973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons
(Diplomatic Agents Convention)

5. 1979 International Convention against the Taking of Hostages
(Hostages Convention)

6. 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material
(Nuclear Materials Convention)

Amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material

7. 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (Extends and supplements the Montreal Convention on Air Safety)
(Airport Protocol)

8. 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation
(Maritime Convention)

2005 Protocol to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation

9. 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf
(Fixed Platform Protocol)

2005 Protocol to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf


10. 1991 Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection
(Plastic Explosives Convention)

11. 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings
(Terrorist Bombing Convention)

12. 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism
(Terrorist Financing Convention)

13. 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
(Nuclear Terrorism Convention)

14. 2010 Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation
(New civil aviation convention)