12 January 2000


12 January 2000

Press Release



An anti-terrorism convention with a new focus -— targeting those who finance terrorism –— was opened for signature on 10 January at the United Nations in New York. By the end of the day, the Convention had been signed by seven countries: Finland; France; Malta; Netherlands; Sri Lanka; United Kingdom and the United States.

The latest in a series of interlocking conventions intended to combat terrorism, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1999 without a vote. It will enter into force when it has been ratified by 22 States. States who sign a treaty demonstrate their intention to ratify.

Speaking at a press conference following its adoption, Philippe Kirsch, of Canada, who chaired the working group that drafted the legislation, called the Convention a model instrument. He pointed out that it recognizes the fundamental importance of the international problem posed by the financing of terrorism; it establishes the act of financing terrorism as an independent crime; it does not require that an act of terrorism actually be committed; and it contains important provisions on the liability of legal entities, such as organizations or groups -— a new concept in the struggle against international terrorism.

The new Convention is intended to have “teeth”. In today’s electronic environment, huge quantities of money can circle the globe in seconds. If a significant number of countries become States parties, the Convention will provide powerful enforcement possibilities to governments who want to put an end to acts of terrorism. Every time terrorist monies pass through the territory of a State party, an international crime has been committed which can be prosecuted.

The international community historically has been unable to agree on a definition of terrorism, as one man’s terrorist is often another man’s freedom fighter. Because of this difficulty, countries have taken the approach of creating the network of conventions which criminalize specific acts, such as setting bombs, kidnapping or hijacking airplanes.

While this Convention does not specifically define an act of terrorism, it does come significantly closer. According to the text, it is a crime to provide or collect funds with the knowledge or intention that they are to be used in acts of violence targeting civilians with the intention of intimidating a government. This is a much broader category of crime than has previously been outlawed. A person is

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also guilty of an offence if he participates as an accomplice in such an act, if he organizes or directs other to commit such an act, or if he contributes in any other way to the crime. In addition, the Convention makes it a crime to provide or collect funds with the knowledge or intention that they are to be used to carry out any of the acts described in nine previously adopted anti-terrorism conventions referred to by the Convention.

States parties are required to adopt measures, such as domestic legislation, to ensure that the criminal acts described in the Convention will under no circumstances be considered justifiable because of political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious considerations.

For the first time, the Convention specifically targets the financial sponsors of terrorist activity, rather than simply the actual perpetrators of the specific acts. Previously, the financial backers of such criminal acts could only be charged with aiding or abetting that crime. Under this law, it is not even necessary that an act of terrorism has taken place; according to article 2, the intention or knowledge of the use of the funds collected or provided is sufficient.

Proceeds from illicit activities, such as opium production or the small arms trade now often find their way to the hands of terrorists through a transnational “shadow banking” system. Front businesses, such as travel agencies that can change currencies, are easily used to launder dirty money and to transfer funds. In the globalizing world, cooperation between transnational criminals and international terrorists is on the rise.

The Convention sets new limits on the banking secrecy traditionally provided by some countries, which has been such a useful tool for transnational criminals and terrorists. States parties will be required to take “all practicable measures”, such as adapting their domestic legislation, to prevent the relevant offences, whether by persons or organizations. Banks and other financial institutions must identify account holders, and must pay special attention to unusual or suspicious transactions and report any they suspect may stem from criminal activity.

The Convention suggests a number of specific measures, such as requiring banks and financial institutions to verify the legal existence of a customer by obtaining proof of incorporation, or requiring banks to maintain transaction records for at least five years. The Convention also calls for efforts to identify, detect, and freeze or seize any funds used or allocated for the purpose of committing a terrorist act, and asks that States consider establishing mechanisms to use such funds to compensate victims and/or their families.

States parties will be required to provide information to other States regarding the whereabouts and activities of suspects, or regarding the movement of funds. They must provide assistance when requested to obtain evidence in their possession. They should consider measures, such as introducing licensing for money- transmission agencies and monitoring the cross-border movement of cash and bearer negotiable instruments.

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All the offences in the Convention are to be deemed “extraditable offences”. But States may no longer refuse extradition on the grounds that the crime concerned is political in nature. Similarly, extradition may no longer be denied because the offence is of a fiscal nature, as the Convention specifies that none of the crimes it covers are to be considered fiscal offences.

For more information, contact:

Sachiko Kuwabara-Yamamoto Ellen McGuffie Principal Legal Officer Information Officer Codification Division Development and Human Rights Section United Nations Office of Legal Affairs United Nations Department of Public Tel: (212) 963-5328 Information e-mail: Tel: (212) 963-0499; fax: (212) 963-1186; e-mail:,

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For information media. Not an official record.