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UN: Antiterror Moves Seen As Long-Term Process

  • Robert McMahon

The president of the UN Security Council says the process of cutting off support for terrorists -- now mandated by the council -- will be a lengthy one. But the council president is confident the entire UN membership will rally behind the effort to track down those linked to terror. Muslim states, meanwhile, are calling for a balanced approach in identifying terrorism in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle.

United Nations, 3 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The president of the United Nations Security Council says a long-term process is now underway to prepare UN members for their responsibility in tracking down and apprehending terrorists.

Ambassador Richard Ryan of Ireland, the Security Council president this month, told reporters yesterday that a tough new council resolution will take time to implement but that he believes it has strong support.

"The terms of the requirements are very straightforward. There is nothing new in it. We expect that the wider membership will rally behind it and rally alongside it in action in the General Assembly."

The resolution, passed on 28 September, requires the 189 UN member states to take an active role in blocking funding of suspected terrorists and prosecuting them. The 15-member Security Council will set up an expert committee in October to monitor compliance.

The resolution comes into force as the UN General Assembly debates what form of action it will take in response to the attacks in the United States that killed nearly 6,000 people. The binding council resolution is seen as a sort of rapid reaction to the attacks. General Assembly support is considered crucial for making antiterrorism measures part of broadly accepted international law.

The assembly has already approved 12 legal instruments on terrorism, but ratification has been slow. The current Assembly session will aim to find common ground on adopting a comprehensive resolution against terrorism. But states have differed over a definition of terrorism, particularly in cases where they sympathize with independence struggles.

Ryan, the Security Council president, downplayed the definition issue, saying the recent council resolution draws heavily on existing conventions already approved by the assembly.

But at least one expert familiar with United Nations affairs says a clear definition of terrorism will be vital before the assembly approves durable measures. Jeffrey Laurenti, a senior analyst for the United Nations Association of the United States, says UN members will back short-term measures aimed at Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. Other terrorist networks, he says, may be more difficult to label than Al-Qaeda.

"The definition of terrorism that's internationally legitimated is going to be very important. When you are asking countries in the long haul to make laws that control financial movements, that supervise financial flows, that require exchange of information about suspected terrorist networks, you're going to need to have a general agreement about whom they apply to."

There are other, practical obstacles to carrying out the new Security Council resolution on terrorism. Council members have already discussed the needs of some member states for assistance in adjusting their administrative and legal systems to comply with the resolution's requirements. Laurenti says this will be a challenge because of the number of countries with poorly developed financial institutions.

"You will have a large number of countries that can't possibly realistically enforce these kinds of financial controls when they can barely get reporting of financial transactions on the legal side from banks that may be operating in their jurisdiction."

The support of Muslim countries is seen as crucial to tracking down suspected terrorists who claim legitimacy through the religion of Islam. But a succession of Muslim states has stressed during the assembly's debate that Islam repudiates violence against innocent people.

Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told the assembly yesterday that terrorism is a negation of everything for which religions like Islam stand.

"Intolerance, extremism, and violence have no place in Islam or among its adherents. We must not purport to accord any legitimacy to these acts by associating them even with a misguided reading of Islam."

Zarif said Iran is fully prepared to contribute to a UN-led effort against terrorism but reiterated his country's opposition to any U.S.-led coalition. Without naming any countries, he referred to what he called a biased approach to dealing with terrorism in the Middle East.

"The credibility of the campaign against terrorism is seriously undermined when policies and practices designed to instill terror and fear among the entire Palestinian people receive acquiescing silence while resistance to foreign occupation and state terrorism is conveniently demonized."

Representatives from Pakistan, Yemen and Malaysia also stressed what they said was the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Iran's case, in particular, demonstrates the difficulty in defining terrorism. It is on a U.S. State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism for its support of Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon, but it says that support is justified in the cause of the Palestinian resistance.