Pressing need to adopt a convention against terrorism

True, the opposition to Ankara’s initiative stemmed from the fact that “terrorism,” till now, has not been defined nor has fighting it been adopted in the form of a legally binding convention, something that is now being rectified. The United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to work on a convention that would define terrorism and make it an international crime. The debate on the subject is projected to be acrimonious for the same reasons that prevented the international community from agreeing on a legally binding convention against terrorism.

What is a terrorist for some countries is a freedom fighter for others. The same division of opinion that stood in the way of articulating and adopting an anti-terrorism convention can be expected therefore to continue to plague the belated efforts to do just that. Yet, the catastrophe that has hit the US should propel a wider agreement on the urgency of the issue and prompt the international community to reach a consensus on the issue during the current session of the UN.

Meanwhile, even in the absence of a legal definition of terrorism and the lack of a binding international norm to combat it, the international community, headed by the US, can still pursue those directly and indirectly responsible for the acts of terrorism perpetrated against US targets on existing legal grounds. To cite but a few and obvious basis for the determined efforts to apprehend and punish all those implicated in the recent wave of terrorism, it could be argued that the killing of thousands of innocent Americans and other nationals is a form of genocide that is prohibited by the existing Convention against Genocide. Targeting civilian centres of population and the indiscriminate killing of people is also in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and on that basis, the acts of terrorism committed in the two US metropolises constitute crimes against humanity.

The issue that remains is how to link the acts of terrorism to a state. Legally speaking, Osama Ben Laden and his organisation is not as accountable as a state would be under the existing binding international norms. If a link can be established, however, between Ben Laden and a state or states, then these states would be held accountable. It is expected that when a convention is finally adopted on terrorism it would make non-state parties equally accountable. That is why there is a pressing need to adopt a convention against terrorism as soon as possible.