21 February 1997


21 February 1997

Press Release


19970221 Background Release The Ad Hoc Committee set up by the General Assembly to elaborate conventions on the suppression of terrorist bombings and on acts of nuclear terrorism will convene its first session at Headquarters from 24 February to 7 March.

Established by resolution 51/210, of 17 December 1996, the Committee -- which is open to all Member States of the United Nations, the specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- was also mandated to address means of further developing a comprehensive legal framework of conventions dealing with international terrorism.

At its first session, the Committee will have before it two draft conventions that have been submitted to facilitate its efforts to shape international law on the question of terrorism. The first, a draft international convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings, is a working paper submitted by France on behalf of the "Group of Seven" most industrialized countries and the Russian Federation. The second, a draft convention on the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism, was submitted by the Russian Federation.

The 17-article draft of the Group of Seven covers such issues as the definition, detention and extradition of suspects, as well as efforts to prevent the actions to be proscribed by the anti-terrorist bombing convention.

The text defines, in article 2, a "terrorist bomber" as a person that "unlawfully and intentionally delivers, places, discharges or detonates a bomb, explosive or incendiary device, or lethal device in, into or affecting a place of general public use, a government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury".

In article 3, the draft states that the convention would not apply to "the delivery, placement, discharge or detonation of a bomb, explosive or incendiary device, or lethal device, by the organized military forces of a State".

Other articles in the draft convention call on States parties to criminalize terrorist bombings under their domestic laws and to punish them appropriately as grave offences. They shall also establish jurisdiction over

the crimes when they are committed in their territories, in vessels flying their flags or aircraft registered under their laws or when the crimes are committed by their nationals. The parties would also do so when the crimes are committed: against their nationals; by stateless persons residing in their territories; or in attempts to intimidate their civilian populations or to compel the States to do or abstain from doing any act.

When they are satisfied that the circumstances warrant, the draft continues, the parties shall take the alleged offenders living in their territories into custody to ensure that they would be tried or extradited. If States parties do not extradite alleged offenders, they shall, without exception, prosecute them in the same way they would handle other grave offences. To facilitate extradition, the crimes specified by the draft shall be included by the parties as extraditable offences in extradition treaties between them. (The draft is contained in document A/AC.252/L.2.)

The 20-article draft convention on nuclear terrorism submitted by the Russian Federation provides a lengthy definition of such acts. They include the use or threat to use nuclear material, nuclear fuel, radioactive products or waste, or any other radioactive substances with toxic, explosive or other dangerous properties. The definition includes the use or threat to use any nuclear installations, nuclear explosive or radiation devices in order to kill or injure persons, damage property or the environment or to compel persons, States or international organizations to do or to refrain from doing any act.

Falling in that category of crimes, according to the draft, are the unauthorized receipt through fraud, theft or forcible seizure of any nuclear material, radioactive substances, nuclear installations or nuclear explosive devices belonging to a State party. Demands by the threat or use of force or by other forms of intimidation for the transfer of such material would also be regarded as acts of nuclear terrorism.

According to the text, the convention would apply exclusively to acts by individuals, and its scope should not include the questions of the non- proliferation of nuclear weapons or nuclear threats posed by States or intergovernmental organizations.

The Russian Federation's proposal would have States parties cooperate in preventing or prosecuting against acts of nuclear terrorism. They would, for instance, adopt necessary legislative and technical measures to protect nuclear material, installations and devices and to forestall unauthorized access to them by third parties.

According to the draft, the convention would not affect the international law provisions on States' competence to conduct investigations on vessels that were not flying their flags or in aircraft which were not registered in their territories. States parties would help each other in

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prosecuting the relevant acts and, when the prosecution is completed, any nuclear material or devices would be returned to the State party to which they belong. (The draft is contained in document A/AC.252/L.3.)

Background on Anti-terrorism Committee

The process leading to the creation of the Ad Hoc Committee dates back to the adoption in 1994 of resolution 49/60, by which the Assembly approved a Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism. The Declaration asked the Secretary-General to review existing international legal instruments on international terrorism to help States identify aspects of the matter that had not been covered by them and could then be addressed to develop a comprehensive legal framework on the question.

In the review he submitted to the Assembly's Sixth Committee (Legal) (document A/51/336) last September, the Secretary-General said that even though there were 13 global or regional treaties on international terrorism, many of them were not universal. International terrorism was, in many instances, associated with drug trafficking, arms trade, smuggling of modern materials, money laundering and with groups with extremist ideologies.

Stressing the need to enact international laws in areas not covered by existing treaties, he suggested consideration should be given to terrorist bombings, terrorist fund-raising and to the prevention of the use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists.

After considering the Secretary-General's report, the Assembly adopted resolution 51/210, which established the Ad Hoc Committee and included a Declaration to Supplement the 1994 Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism. In the supplementary text, Member States reaffirmed their condemnation of all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, wherever and by whomsoever committed. They also declared that knowingly financing, planning and inciting terrorist acts contradicted the purposes of the United Nations.

When it discussed the Secretary-General's report, the Assembly had before it texts which referred to combating international terrorism, including the final document of the summit meeting of the Group of Seven in Lyon, France, in June 1996, and the subsequent July 1996 Ministerial Conference on Terrorism, held in Paris. It also considered the outcome of the 1996 Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Damascus Declaration States, held in Muscat, Oman, and of the ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement, held at Headquarters in September.

In the final document of the Lyon summit -- which was held after the 25 June 1996 bombing of a United States military barracks at Khobar, Saudi Arabia -- the Group of Seven leaders proclaimed their commitment to fight

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terrorism by all legal means and asked others to help them thwart terrorist acts. Declaring the fight an absolute priority, they resolved to strengthen the international community's capacity to defeat terrorism. To that end, they scheduled a ministerial meeting in Paris to recommend further action. An outcome of the ministerial meeting, according to another letter from France, was a call on all States to join international conventions against terrorism by the year 2000 and to develop an international convention on terrorist bombings.

The final communiqué of the meeting of the Damascus Declaration States (Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates) also condemned all acts of terrorism, including the bombing in Saudi Arabia. However, they condemned "attempts to stigmatize legitimate national resistance as terrorism" and upheld "the inalienable right to resist occupation and aggression".

In a similar vein, the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement condemned terrorism and any political, diplomatic, moral or material support for it. However: "They reaffirmed the Movement's principled position under international law on the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples under colonial or alien domination and foreign occupation for national liberation and self- determination which did not constitute terrorism." They asked for the endorsement of the call for the definition of terrorism to differentiate it from the legitimate struggle of peoples for self-determination and national liberation.

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For information media. Not an official record.