AD HOC COMMITTEE CONCLUDES GENERAL DISCUSSION OF DRAFT CONVENTION TO SUPPRESS ACTS OF NUCLEAR TERRORISM19980218
The Ad Hoc Committee established by the General Assembly to elaborate conventions on the suppressing of terrorist bombings and on acts of nuclear terrorism heard this morning that a proposed convention to deal with nuclear terrorism should avoid duplication and overlap with existing treaties. The scope of application, definition of nuclear terrorism and consistency with other instruments must be deliberated upon carefully.
The Committee, set up by Assembly resolution 51/210, was considering a 20-article draft convention on the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism submitted by the Russian Federation.
Speaking as the Committee concludes general discussion of the draft text items, several delegations said it must consider whether the most productive way of dealing with nuclear threat would be to rewrite the draft convention or amend or add a protocol to the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. Some noted that there was already an extensive legal regime to deal with various aspects of the nuclear threat.
The draft convention should not affect the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, a number of representatives said. Definitions of criminal activity and intent should be worded clearly. In addition, the Committee should be careful not to impinge on other nuclear related conduct that had nothing to do with nuclear terrorism, particularly scientific and medical uses of radioactive material.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the draft convention was intended to suppress acts of nuclear terrorism and did not attempt to amend the existing legal regime for the physical protection of nuclear material. Many terrorist conventions duplicated one another. The 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings shared common aspects with other treaties. Unnecessary repetitions should be amended during a thorough article-by-article examination of the text.
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After a short suspension of the meeting for consultation, Chairman Philippe Kirsch (Canada) informed the Committee that a decision had been reached to continue discussions on the draft convention tomorrow morning in the format of a working group of the whole. The informal discussions would focus on the question of definition, the scope of the draft convention, and its relationship with other instruments that covered the same substantive matters.
Statements were also made by the representatives of the United States, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Jamaica, Chile, China, Italy, Malta, Argentina and Iran.
The Ad Hoc Committee will meet again at a time to be announced.
Committee Work Programme
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 met this morning to continue its second session.
Established by resolution 51/210, of 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 means of further developing a comprehensive legal framework of conventions dealing with international terrorism.
At its second session, the Committee has before it a 20-article draft convention on the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism (document A/AC.253/L.3), submitted by the Russian Federation and an explanatory note to the draft convention submitted by the same delegation (document A/AC.252/L.3/Add.1). (For background on the session, see Press Release L/2853, of 13 February.)
ROBERT ROSENSTOCK (United States) said it seemed clear that while there was support for the substance of the draft convention, there was also considerable uncertainty about the best means to advance the issues it addressed. His Government was concerned that the Committee did not inadvertently undercut or compromise existing international instruments, in particular the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and the 1997 on the suppression of terrorist bombings. The Committee should closely examine those instruments in order to avoid unnecessary overlap and to ensure consistency.
A key issue in evaluating the draft convention was the degree of overlap covered by existing instruments, he said. Discussing the scope of the draft convention in the light of existing instruments would clarify the new areas covered by the draft text. Such discussion would set the stage for sharpening the proposed provisions of the convention. The definitions of criminal activity and intent need to be worded clearly. In addition, the Committee should be careful not to impinge on other nuclear related conduct that had nothing to do with nuclear terrorism, particulary scientific and medical uses of radioactive material.
The Committee must also examine the extent to which the provisions of the draft convention were better addressed in other existing international conventions, he said. It was possible that the Committee was not the best body to identify and evaluate the provisions regarding the physical protection of nuclear material, as it should focus on the provisions relating to
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terrorism. The Committee should also ensure that the definitions in proposed conventions were in line with established conventions, particulary the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. Much in the Russian draft could help move the work of the Committee forward, but because of the substantial body of existing law and the complexity of the issues there were considerable risks of ignoring particular concerns raised about those issues.
ANA MANJA BESKER (Croatia) said Assembly resolution 51/210 and the draft convention proposed by the Russian Federation addressed a growing danger that some small number of weapons of mass destruction would be used by terrorist groups. Croatia shared the concerns expressed yesterday by many delegations, particularly by Japan and the Netherlands. It was important that any approach to deal with the matter be made in the context of existing treaties and the forum for deliberations be adjusted accordingly.
She said there was already an extensive legal body to deal with various aspects of nuclear threat and there had also been a number of multilateral agreements in the last two years. In codifying terrorist threats, care was needed to avoid overlapping or duplication.
The detailed elaboration yesterday of various aspects of the draft convention by the representative of the IAEA had contributed to a greater understanding of the draft convention, she said. However, definitions should be deferred to a later stage. Now, it was important to consider the most productive way of dealing with nuclear threat, whether by rewriting the draft convention or by amending or adding a protocol to the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The latter was the preferable option. The IAEA must be given the appropriate role in the important endeavour before the Ad Hoc Committee. Croatia strongly supported including the IAEA as a focal point in the elaboration of any legal instrument, regardless of its form.
ROHAN PERERA (Sri Lanka) said discussion of the Russian Federation draft convention should centre around the issues of definitions, the relationship of the convention with other existing international instruments, the overlap of treaty regimes, and the protection of nuclear material. The Committee should also pay careful consideration to the principle focus of the convention by giving due regard to the counter terrorism thrust found in preceding conventions in the field of terrorism, particulary the 1997 International Convention on terrorist bombings. The provisions of that Convention regarding jurisdiction, extradition and the rendering of mutual assistance should be studied. Sri Lanka looks forward to working with other delegations on those issues.
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ANGELICA ARCE DE JEANNET (Mexico) said the best way of preventing nuclear terrorism was to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely. The draft convention presented by the Russian Federation was extensive. There was a need to define its scope and application. Any codification should seek to avoid overlap or duplication, pursuant to the nuclear non-proliferation treaties and those establishing nuclear weapons-free zones.
WAYNE St. JOHN McCOOK (Jamaica) said the Ad Hoc Committee should examine any overlap between the draft convention and existing treaties. It should also examine the extent to which a new treaty was needed, and the scope and definitions of the draft convention. As long as there were nuclear weapons, there would be a threat of nuclear terrorism. Jamaica felt that the proposed treaty deserved active consideration. His delegation would follow discussions closely, and take into account any impact, particularly on the custodians of nuclear material and on those third States which might be affected by nuclear weapons. It had also noted the importance of environmental factors, especially for Caribbean countries.
MONICA ROJAS (Chile) said her Government supported any action to combat terrorism and appreciated the effort made by the Russian Federation to supply the draft convention that was the basis of the Committee's work. Yet, Chile shared the concerns voiced by other delegations regarding the definitions of nuclear terrorism. It was vital to make an effort to cover all acts or involvements that such an offence might involve. The best practice would be to ensure that there was no duplication with existing international legal instruments. It would be a major advance to make progress in nuclear terrorism, and Chile supported the proposal that the Committee should strive to identify lacunae in those existing Conventions relating to terrorism.
She stressed the importance of articles relating to extradition and jurisdictional cooperation, which were closely related. States parties should be obligated to prosecute persons involved in acts of nuclear terrorism in their territory, and also to extradite them if that prosecution could not be carried out. Such obligations were consistent with other international instruments. The draft convention should also strengthen existing instruments of jurisdictional cooperation for the transfer of prisoners and the sharing of costs.
YANPING GAO (China) said it was important that the draft convention mentioned the issue of the possible threat to international peace and security by international terrorism. Such a draft convention could become a good basis for the Committee's discussion. The statement yesterday by the IAEA representative was specific and meaningful, and would facilitate technical discussion of the draft convention. China was against all forms of terrorism and believed that international cooperation should be strengthened in that field.
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The articles containing definitions of acts of nuclear terrorism and the scope of application were vital to the draft convention, she said. It was also important to take into account the relationship of the text with existing international legal instruments, particulary the 1980 Convention. China would state its specific views and opinions during discussions of the draft convention in the framework of a working group.
PAOLO CASARDI (Italy) expressed gratitude to the Russian Federation for elaborating the draft convention and for its explanatory note. It was an important initiative that would enable the international community to deal with the threat of nuclear terrorism. Many delegations had emphasized the question of overlap and the need for consistency with existing international treaties, particularly the 1980 Convention. The presentation by the IAEA Legal adviser yesterday had stressed the importance of consistency and the absence of duplication, as well as the desirability of certainty and coherence in treaty relations. Those points should be kept in mind during negotiations and deliberations.
ANTON TABONE (Malta) said that the draft convention was a good basis for dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorism. Universal adherence to such a treaty would address the emerging threats from groups operating across borders. Surprisingly, nuclear terrorism had been the subject of only a few studies, probably because it had been put into the "big risk, low probability" category. Yet, the draft convention was a praiseworthy initiative and the Ad Hoc Committee should deliberate on it carefully. It was only a preliminary draft and provisions which might create duplication could be highlighted accordingly.
The draft convention would help reduce the probability of nuclear and radioactive terrorism, and safeguard those sites which produced nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, he said. There were five nuclear-weapons-free zones and half of the world's population lived in them. Malta believed the creation of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Mediterranean, based on mutual agreement, would contribute to peace in that region. The IAEA's presentation on the various legal and technical provisions of the draft convention was an invaluable contribution to the discussions.
SILVIA FERNANDEZ DE GURMENDI (Argentina) said the pragmatic approach of elaborating successive conventions was the best way to fill in the lacunae that existed in international law and to cover the various categories of terrorist activities. In that gradual approach, it was important to cover the gaps while avoiding overlaps. Any duplication could undermine or diminish the force of already existing legal instruments.
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She urged the Committee to take steps to avoid duplication with the 1980 Convention and the 1997 Convention on terrorist bombings. Existing lacunae had to be covered without duplicating previous provisions. Discussions should enable the Committee to make positive steps forward in that area. Argentina was ready to cooperate in the elaboration of an instrument to suppress nuclear terrorism in any format or forum that might be deemed appropriate.
GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran) said the IAEA representative yesterday made a valuable contribution to the Committee's work, which should be given careful consideration. It was important that the draft convention should not affect the peaceful use of nuclear energy by Member States. The scope of application must also be clearly defined. Due to the technical nature of the definitions, the Committee should defer deliberation of that article until later in the session. In addition, the Committee should avoid overlapping and duplication in its work.
ALEXANDRE ZMEEVSKI (Russian Federation) said the main task of the Ad Hoc Committee was to elaborate a document that was anti-terrorist in thrust. The draft convention was not intended to address issues regarding the physical protection of nuclear material covered under the 1980 Convention. Other forums existed for the strengthening of that Convention. The draft also did not attempt to amend the existing regime for the protection of nuclear material. It was intended to suppress acts of nuclear terrorism.
The Ad Hoc Committee was the relevant forum for the drafting of a convention on nuclear terrorism, he said. The General Assembly had given the Committee a mandate that included the drafting of anti-terrorism conventions. Furthermore, the first purpose of the United Nations was to protect mankind from threats to international peace and security. Interaction with the IAEA would be useful in the drafting of definitions. The drafting of an anti- terrorist protocol to the 1980 Convention would go beyond the bounds of that Convention because it was limited to the safety of the peaceful use of the atom. In addition, a protocol could only be drafted by the parties to that Convention.
Concerning the question of overlaps, he said many anti-terrorist conventions duplicate one another. The most recently adopted Convention, the 1997 Convention on terrorist bombings, had numerous mutual points of contact with earlier adopted documents. The majority of delegations were in favour of borrowing a great deal of the work done in that Convention in the future elaboration of anti-terrorism conventions. That was also a form of duplication, but it was a useful and necessary part of the process. Yet, unnecessary repetitions should be amended during a thorough article-by-article examination of the text.
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PHILIPPE KIRSCH (Canada), Committee Chairman, reviewed the main points raised during the general exchange of views. He said delegations had expressed gratitude to the Russian Federation for proposing the draft convention and its explanatory note. The general debate had touched on a number of questions, including the scope, application, definitions and objective of the proposed instrument. It had been noted that some of its provisions had relevance for criminal law. Delegations had also commented on broader issues, including the implication of the current exercise for other international treaties, particularly the 1980 Convention and the 1997 Convention on terrorist bombings. The need to identify gaps in existing legal instruments was noted and there had been general agreement that any instrument should be consistent with and complement existing instruments.
The best forum for discussion had also been raised, he said. He suggested that in the initial stages discussions might focus on the question of definitions, which had already received input from the IAEA, as well as consistency and overlap with existing instruments.
He then suspended the meeting for consultations on how the Ad Hoc Committee should proceed.
When the meeting resumed, the Chairman said delegations had decided to continue their discussions tomorrow morning in the format of a working group of the whole. They would begin their informal discussions on the question of definition, the scope of the draft convention, and its relationship with other instruments that covered the same substantive matters.
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