13 February 1998


13 February 1998

Press Release


19980213 Background Release The Ad Hoc Committee established by the General Assembly to elaborate conventions on the suppression of terrorist bombings and on acts of nuclear terrorism will convene its second session from 17 to 27 February.

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

The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings was adopted by the Assembly last December after elaborating on the outcome of the Committee's work during its first session earlier that year. The Convention, which is open for signature until 31 December 1999, will enter into force 30 days after the date of the deposit of the twenty-second instrument of ratification.

At its upcoming session, the Committee will have before it a 20-article draft convention on the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism (document A/AC.252/L.3.), submitted by the Russian Federation.

Article 1 of the draft defines acts of nuclear terrorism. 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 also includes the use or threat to use any nuclear installations, nuclear explosive or radiation-dissemination devices in order to kill or injure persons; to damage property or the environment; or to compel persons, States or international organizations to do or to refrain from doing any act.

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

In article 2, the draft states that the convention would apply exclusively to acts by individuals, in an individual capacity or as part of

non-State groups or other associations. Its scope should not include the questions of 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. For instance, according to article 4 of the text, they would adopt necessary legislative and technical measures to protect nuclear material, installations and devices, and to forestall unauthorized access to them by third parties.

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, according to article 6 of the text. States parties would help each other in 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 Committee will also have before it an explanatory note, also submitted by the Russian Federation (document A/AC.252/L.3/Add.1), which contains an article-by-article commentary on the draft convention.

The note states that a new international legal instrument is needed because the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material has a number of substantial gaps concerning countering acts of nuclear terrorism, particularly at the stage of stopping the terrorist act and eliminating its consequences. The 1980 Convention applies to the safety of the "peaceful atom", and it covers only one area of the machinery for combating the criminal use of nuclear material, namely, preventing nuclear components from getting out of the possession of State bodies.

The 1980 Convention alone is insufficient to eliminate the danger of nuclear terrorism in all its manifestations, the note says. Therefore, the Russian Federation submitted the draft convention for the following reasons: to increase the attention paid by the international community to combating new and dangerous manifestations of terrorism; to stimulate the adoption of effective preventive measures in that sphere; and to establish a reliable international legal mechanism for cooperation at all stages of combating nuclear terrorism.

According to the note, the draft convention does not contain any norms which go beyond the traditional framework of legal cooperation in combating terrorism. It is based on the approach taken by anti-terrorist conventions, including the principle of universal jurisdiction. A number of articles in the draft reproduce the corresponding formulations in the 1980 Convention and in the anti-terrorist conventions already approved by the international community.

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Background on 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) in September 1996, 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.

At its first session, held from 24 February to 7 March 1997, the Ad Hoc Committee adopted a report (document A/52/37) transmitting to the Assembly revised proposals to a draft convention on an international convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings.

The revised text and other proposals contained in that report formed the basis of further work on such a convention during the Assembly's fifty-second session, from 22 September to 3 October 1997, within the framework of a working group of the Sixth Committee.

At the recommendation of the Sixth Committee, the Assembly, by resolution 52/164, adopted the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings on 15 December 1997, and urged all States to become parties to it.

The International Convention is the eleventh United Nations legal instrument meant to identify, define and punish specific terrorist acts as

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international crimes. It provides that States either prosecute or extradite those accused of terrorist bombings within their territory. It also calls on States to adopt further measures to prevent terrorism and strengthen international cooperation in combating such crimes.

The Convention defines a terrorist bomber as a person who unlawfully and intentionally delivers, places, discharges or detonates an explosive or other lethal 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.

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For information media. Not an official record.