LEGAL COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS ADOPTION OF DRAFT CONVENTION TO SUPPRESS TERRORIST BOMBINGS

19 November 1997
GA/L/3066

LEGAL COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS ADOPTION OF DRAFT CONVENTION TO SUPPRESS TERRORIST BOMBINGS

19 November 1997

Press ReleaseGA/L/3066

LEGAL COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS ADOPTION OF DRAFT CONVENTION TO SUPPRESS TERRORIST BOMBINGS

19971119 The General Assembly would adopt an international convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings and urge all States to become parties to it, by the terms of a draft resolution approved without a vote this afternoon by the Sixth Committee (Legal).

The draft convention, which is annexed to the draft resolution, would be open for signature from 12 January 1998 to 31 December 1999. It would enter into force on the thirtieth day following the date of the deposit of the twenty-second instrument of ratification.

In 24 articles, the draft convention addressed such elements as definitions, scope, obligation of States parties, and cooperation to prevent actions that would be proscribed by the convention, as well as the question of detention, extradition or prosecution.

To facilitate the extradition of suspects, the text specifies crimes which are extraditable under treaties which States parties sign among themselves. It does not govern the military activities of States in armed conflict or in exercise of their official duties.

The draft convention defines a terrorist bomber as a person who unlawfully and intentionally delivers, places, discharges or detonates a bomb, explosive, lethal or incendiary device in, into or against a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury or the destruction of such a place resulting in major economic loss.

It would have States parties take steps to establish their jurisdiction over terrorist bombings committed in their territories. They could also have jurisdiction when the offences are committed against their nationals or facilities abroad, including their embassies or other diplomatic or consular premises.

Many speakers this afternoon said that the draft convention was the best possible compromise that could be achieved at present. Some said the draft text had shortcomings, such as the absence of a definition of terrorism and terrorist acts. Concerns were also expressed about the exemption of activities by the military forces of States.

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The representative of the United States said the draft convention was an important milestone in the fight against terrorism. While the text could be improved, the changes might not be agreeable to other States and the delicate compromise would be lost. Recent events had shown that terrorism could strike anyone, any time, and those crimes should be abolished.

The representative of New Zealand said it was inappropriate to have a general exception for activities of military forces of States. It was important that the convention capture within its ambit all unlawful terrorist actions, while still protecting the lawful actions of military personnel.

Statements were made by the representatives of Libya, Iran, Costa Rica, Australia, Sri Lanka, Germany, Iraq, Algeria, Netherlands, Austria, Japan, Brazil, Venezuela, India, United Kingdom, Italy, Czech Republic, Tunisia, Uruguay, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Finland, Norway, Greece, Argentina, Sweden, France, Chile, Spain, Guinea, Nigeria, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, China, Canada, Lebanon, South Africa, Turkey, Jamaica and Cuba.

The representatives of Israel, Syria and Lebanon spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The observers for the Holy See and Switzerland also spoke.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 21 November, to take action on the rest of its draft resolutions.

Committee Work Programme

The Sixth Committee (Legal) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of a draft resolution on the international convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings (A/C.6/52/L.13).

By that draft, the Assembly would adopt the text of the convention and urge all States to sign and ratify it or accept, approve or accede to it. The text of the convention is annexed to the draft resolution.

The 24-article draft convention covers definitions, the scope of the convention, the obligation of States parties to implement the instrument, detention, extradition or prosecution, and cooperation to prevent actions that would be proscribed by the convention. A provision of the draft convention (article 3) states that the instrument shall not apply where the offence is committed within a single State, the alleged offender and the victims are nationals of that State, the alleged offender is found in the territory of that State and no other State has a basis under a provision of the draft convention to exercise jurisdiction, except in certain stipulated cases.

The convention shall be open for signature by all States from 12 January 1998 until 31 December 1999, and shall enter into force on the thirtieth day following the date of the deposit of the twenty-second instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Secretary-General.

The draft resolution is sponsored by Costa Rica.

Action on Text

The representative of Libya said his delegation did not have time to study the draft by Costa Rica adequately and only gave it a preliminary reading. Based on that reading, however, he noted that the draft did not take into consideration all concerns, such as the distinction between terrorism and struggles for independence. More time should be given to consideration of the topic so that the Sixth Committee could come up with a more acceptable text.

The representative of Iran said that although the working group of the Sixth Committee made progress in its consideration of the issue, it was not in a position to propose a draft resolution for adoption. There were many concerns expressed by States on the subject and submitted in writing to the working group, but those were not covered in the working group's draft. The issue should be given greater consideration so that a text could be prepared which would take into account the concerns of States.

The representative of Costa Rica said his delegation put forward a text that had a very delicate balance. While the language could be seen as obscure, it was considered to be a basis for agreement on the topic. His

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delegation would prefer that changes were not made to the text and that it be adopted without a vote.

The representative of Australia said her country would like to see the immediate adoption of the draft convention. Australia recognized that the text did not satisfy all countries, some of which had a number of legitimate concerns. It would be very regrettable if there should be another delay in approving the text. Real effort had been made to accommodate as many delegations as possible, and it was her delegation's sense that it had the support of the majority of Committee members. The recent indiscriminate killing of tourists in Egypt underlined the need for such a convention. Australia had a very particular interest in the matter, as it would host the Olympic Games in the year 2000. It was anxious that the text be adopted to enable her country to adapt provisions of the text in its preparations for the games.

The representative of Sri Lanka said it found it difficult to see how the text could be improved upon at the next session of the Ad Hoc Committee of the Sixth Committee. The time for meaningful action was now and the text should be adopted.

The representative of Germany said it was pleased with the text. He understood the concerns of some delegations that their views had not been reflected in the text. All delegations had had an opportunity to express their views. The text was a compromise document which could hardly please everyone.

The representative of Iraq said delegations had very little time to review issues that had not been subject to consensus in the debates before the Committee and the working group. More time should be given to review those topics so a consensus could be reached.

The representative of Algeria said the draft resolution was a compromise text that could have been less ambiguous. Some of his delegation's concerns were not taken into account fully. But it would be a lack of realism and common sense to believe that the text could take into account all the details and concerns of every delegation. The adoption of the text would be a significant step in fighting international terrorism. He called on the understanding of other delegations, so that the text could be adopted.

The representative of Netherlands said the carefully drafted and balanced text was the best possible that could be achieved. All issues had been discussed thoroughly and those were reflected in the draft. His delegation hoped the draft resolution would be adopted without a vote and the United Nations would send a strong message that it was committed to fighting terrorism.

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The representative of Austria said there was strong support for adoption of the document; and compromise, by necessity, was imperfect. The draft could have been improved in some parts, but as it is, it was the best achievable outcome of lengthy negotiations. The draft dealt with burning issues and there was an enormous amount of urgency in what the Sixth Committee was doing. That should be considered by all in the room. He hoped that those who still had concerns would understand that the current compromise seemed to be the best one achievable. The United Nations should send a message that it was committed to fight international terrorism.

The representative of Japan said he supported the draft text. Under general international law, the convention should not apply to military forces operating on behalf of a State. It hoped that the draft text would be adopted because of the urgent necessity to combat terrorism.

The representative of Brazil also said the text was a balanced one and should be adopted.

The representative of Venezuela similarly said the text was a compromised document and should be acted upon today.

The representative of India said the text was not entirely foolproof. A brilliant opportunity had been missed for the production of an excellent document. The text did not deal with the consequences of terrorist activities. However, a signal should be sent to those who engaged in terrorism that the United Nations did not condone their activities. There was a need for the draft convention and action should be taken now.

The representative of the United Kingdom said his delegation favoured the adoption of the text, which represented a delicate balance and compromise. Further discussion would not produce a better text and there would be a danger that, with further discussion, the hard-won compromise would be lost.

The representative of Italy said the text was a balanced product which reflects a very delicate compromise. It did not satisfy every delegation and it did not satisfy all the concerns of his delegation. The text was the best possible result under the present circumstances. Further discussion on the crucial provisions of that text would not lead to consensus. His delegation hoped it would be possible to adopt the text without a vote.

The representative of the Czech Republic said the text overall was acceptable. His delegation was aware that it was the outcome of difficult negotiations and it was a compromise. Every compromise represents a delicate balance and if one element was changed, the whole structure might collapse. All delegations had a chance to take part in the process of negotiations and the working group provided yet another opportunity to make comments. Recent events demonstrated the urgency for action on that topic. Given the

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circumstances, it would not be helpful to try to improve the draft further. His delegation hoped it would be adopted without a vote.

The representative of the United States said the Sixth Committee had the opportunity to help the international community respond to the threat of terrorism. Although the draft did not solve all the problems, it was an important milestone in the fight against terrorism. To fail to adopt it now would miss a golden opportunity. His delegation agreed that the text could be improved in some areas, but the changes made would not be agreeable to other States and the delicate compromise would be lost. Recent events have shown that terrorism could strike anyone, any time, and those crimes should be abolished.

The representative of Tunisia said her delegation appealed to all sides to show flexibility in their positions on the draft text. While her delegation fully understood the concerns, giving the matter back to the Ad Hoc Committee would not be helpful and would lead to the collapse of the compromise. It would also send the wrong message to those who committed acts that the Committee would like to prevent.

The representative of Uruguay said the text should be adopted and that the efforts of Costa Rica in producing a comprise document should not go to waste. Uruguay would have liked a text which expressly dealt with the issue of asylum.

The representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said a number of related aspects of terrorist activities should be borne in mind. His delegation did not know what military forces were referred to in the draft. A more concrete form should be given to the text. While his country and a number of its neighbours had agreed to combat terrorism, it was concerned about the problem of "NGO terrorism". The Democratic Republic of the Congo had recently closed its borders because of the activities of former Rwanda military forces, and his Government had detected terrorist activities by some non-governmental organizations. All forms and manifestations of terrorism should be taken into account.

The representative of Colombia said her delegation would support the draft because a message should be sent to terrorists that their actions would not be tolerated.

The representative of Finland said a very large number of delegations, including her own, had participated in the negotiations and exhibited a spirit of flexibility. The text reflected a wide view, and should be adopted.

The representative of Norway also joined in the consensus for the adoption of the text. It would be regrettable to reopen negotiations, as the text represented the best possible compromise.

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The representative of Greece said the text was a satisfactory and balanced one and any attempts to alter it would be counter-productive. Her delegation understood the concerns expressed by some delegations and it would have preferred a different course of action. But even if more time was given, the draft would not fully satisfy all parties. The draft was a bold step for combating international terrorism, and the Sixth Committee should proceed in adoption of it without a vote.

The representative of Argentina said it supported the resolution as a compromise solution.

The representative of Sweden said the text was acceptable to his delegation; it was a fragile package that should not be unravelled. It was important to catch the opportunity and approve the draft resolution. His delegations had difficulties early in the process concerning the draft's provisions on extradition. Sweden compromised in order to join the consensus, which created probably the best convention that could be achieved. The draft was not perfect but it was good and it sent a strong message to the world that the United Nations was adamant in its fight against terrorism.

The representative of France said the draft was an imperfect compromise and it was a balance that could collapse if discussions were reopened. The opportunity to approve such a draft should not be missed because it would represent a failure for the United Nations and a disastrous political signal.

The representative of Chile said that although the convention was not entirely satisfactory, it was a step forward in the fight against terrorism and should be adopted today by consensus.

The representative of Spain said the text was not perfect but it was the best one possible, and it would help countries combat international terrorism. As a victim of terrorist acts, Spain would welcome any instrument that would enable it to combat the phenomenon. He, therefore, favoured the adoption of the text.

The representative of Guinea also said that the text should be adopted today without a vote.

The Observer for the Holy See said much progress had been made in the last three months on drafting the text. He agreed with the vast majority of speakers that it should be adopted.

The representative of Nigeria said her delegation believed that as imperfect as the document was, the time was ripe for action to be taken on it. The consequences of not taking action would mean sending wrong signals to perpetrators of terrorism. Her delegation joined in the emerging consensus for action to be taken on the text.

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The representative of Egypt said the draft had shortcomings, particularly with regard to its provisions on extradition and article 19. However, it was an important addition to the instruments adopted in the past 20 years. His delegation associated itself with others advocating adoption of the text as soon as possible. The draft convention reflected a very delicate balance throughout its provisions, and, as long as that would gain consensus, action should be taken now.

The Observer for Switzerland said it had great interest in the issue. The compromises achieved did not satisfy all delegations. However, he favoured its adoption.

The representative of Jordan drew attention to inaccuracies in the Arabic translation.

The Chairman of the Sixth Committee, PETER TOMKA (Slovakia), said that although some delegations were not completely satisfied with the text, the time had come for action on it. It was clear that the instrument was not a perfect one and such was the case with all international legal instruments. If the text was adopted, further steps could still be adopted to fight terrorism. It was his understanding that a majority would like the text adopted, and he urged delegations to show a spirit of compromise in having that done.

The representative of Pakistan, referring to amendments he had proposed, said it was clear that the draft text would require further work. His delegation fully understood the scourge of terrorism and Pakistan had been a victim. It condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, irrespective of its objectives. Pakistan would continue to fulfil its obligations in the fight against it. Pakistan had highlighted its concerns in the form of amendments and proposals, but regretted that the finished text did not meet its substantive concerns. Partial solutions could not be useful; treaties should be refined.

The international community should make a concerted effort to bridge the gaps in the draft text, he said. It had so far not agreed on the definition of terrorism. A solution to the problem could be found in the root causes of terrorism. Work on combating terrorism should take account of issues such as colonialism, fundamental human rights and alien occupation. General Assembly resolutions on the subject still remained valid. He regretted that the convention did not reflect the legitimate struggle for self-determination, and the comprehensive view of the complexities inherent in terrorism. Pakistan had expressed its view on a number of provisions but the end product had not taken account of all of them. He noted that a provision in the text would immune activities of military forces of a State, even if they were terrorist acts. The number of 22 ratifications required for entry into force of the convention was inadequate.

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The representative of China said it condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. China had acceded to all instruments on terrorism and had participated in the work of the drafting of the convention. Many important questions that were outstanding should have been resolved. It was regrettable that the draft text presented by Costa Rica was an adaptation of the original text of the Ad Hoc Committee. Consequently, his delegation would not participate in the action on the draft.

The Committee then approved, without a vote, the draft text on the international convention on the suppression of terrorist bombings (document A/C.6/52/L.13).

Speaking after the action, the representative of Algeria welcomed the adoption of the text by consensus. The text could not satisfy all delegations. Despite its imperfections, it could help in the fight against terrorism and would send a signal that the international community would not remain impassive about terrorist acts. Algeria fully supported the convention and hoped it would enter into force as soon as possible.

The representative of New Zealand said that for reasons of principle, her delegation had taken a special interest in the relationship between the convention, establishing a global "prosecute or extradite" regime for terrorist bombings, and the activities of military forces of a State. It was inappropriate to have a general exception for such activities from the scope of the convention.

She said it was important that the convention captured within its ambit all unlawful terrorist actions, while still protecting the lawful actions of military personnel. The exclusion from the scope of the convention of certain actions of military forces in no way affected an important general principle, which was that such forces might be held individually criminally responsible whether or not the State of which they were national was also responsible for their actions.

The representative of Libya said his delegation had joined in the consensus based on its condemnation of terrorism. Activities in the struggle against alien occupation should be exempted. State terrorism, one of the hateful forms of terrorism, should not. The lack of definition of terrorism and of activities of military forces of States was a cause for concern.

The representative of Canada, on behalf of the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee and of the working group of the Sixth Committee, thanked delegations for the tribute paid to the Chairman. He also commended the delegation of Costa Rica for its efforts in achieving a consensus on the text.

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The representative of Lebanon said it would have liked a stronger text. It had not been opposed to the adoption of the text as a whole as it supported action against terrorism. The international effort should be complemented by examination of the root causes of terrorism. It was regrettable that the text did not include definition of terrorist bombings and terrorism itself. He believed the convention did not apply to acts of resistance to Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory. Such resistance was legitimate. The convention did not give any credibility to any practices of Israel in the territory it occupied in Lebanon, and reaffirmed that the convention should not be interpreted as allowing the military forces of a State to carry out such activities.

The representative of Japan said the text marked an advance in the fight against terrorism and would send a strong message to perpetrators of terrorism. Interpretation of its provisions was up to a contracting party.

The representative of South Africa said his delegation would explain its position in the Assembly plenary.

The representative of India, welcoming the text, said negotiations on the proposal on the suppression of nuclear terrorism should follow. The real tribute in the fight against terrorism lay in international cooperation to uproot it.

The representative of Turkey said his delegation welcomed the adoption of the draft. However, the convention legally was not as strong as it should be and for those reasons his delegation would exercise its right to speak on the topic when it comes before the Assembly plenary.

The representative of Jamaica said the draft sent a powerful message to terrorists all over the world. The Sixth Committee members could candidly admit that, at the diplomatic level, it was the best draft possible at the time. And, it must be clear that work would be done in the future to improve upon the shortcomings of that draft.

The representative of Cuba said she would be presenting amendments to the draft resolution on the Host Country Committee. Her delegation would request Member States to consider reviewing the composition of the Committee and transmit their views to the Secretary-General so he could present them in a report to the Assembly.

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Right of Reply

DANIEL TAUB (Israel), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, commended the adoption of the convention and called the process a "patient and difficult birth". Statements made by a number of representatives who continued to assert that an act of terrorism was not terrorism if it was done for reasons of liberation could not be ignored. That definition of terrorism did a genuine injustice to those who really were fighting for freedom and liberation. If the act of terrorism was justified, then the actions to stop it were unjustifiable. States that asserted that some terrorism was justifiable had vested interest in terrorism simply because it advanced their cynical political agenda.

GHASSAN OBEID (Syria) said Israel tried in an ironic fashion to speak about terrorism despite perpetrating acts of terrorism itself. The representative of Israel gave several examples of terrorism but ignored what was done by his fellow citizens in Lebanon and in other massacres perpetrated by Israelis. The most heinous terrorism was that perpetrated by States and governments. Israel had perpetrated all forms of terrorism against Palestinians and Lebanese, and Israeli police practised terrorism on a daily basis against Syrian civilians in the occupied Syrian Golan.

Mr. TAUB (Israel) said there was no forum more aware of the difficulty at arriving at a definition of terrorism than the Sixth Committee. Terrorism was clearly a deliberate and systematic attack on civilians meant to induce shock and horror. The aim of the international community must be to stop those individuals who seek to terrorize for political ends. His delegation called upon Syria and the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiation table so that outstanding issues could be resolved.

Mr. OBEID (Syria) said his delegation would accept Israel's definition of terrorism if it would comply with international law. Israel should not be preaching about returning to negotiations because it occupied Syrian land. It was not Syria who stopped negotiations, it was the Israeli Government.

HICHAM HAMDAN (Lebanon) said his delegation could not accept the present discussion without comment because so many people of his country had been killed by Israeli terrorism.

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For information media. Not an official record.