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UN: Security Council Finds Progress On Counterterrorism, But Mideast Issues Intrude

  • Robert McMahon

The UN Security Council's counterterrorism committee is reporting broad progress in carrying out global antiterrorism measures. Member states are amending legislation and ratifying conventions that provide the legal basis to stop the harboring of terrorists and to cut off their support. But the Mideast conflict, as is often the case, intruded on the discussion, as several representatives expressed stark differences over how to define terrorism.

United Nations, 16 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of a UN Security Council committee says UN member states continue to show a strong commitment to acting against terrorism, after the council mandated new measures in response to the 11 September attacks.

British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told the council yesterday that his counterterrorism committee has received broad cooperation and is beginning to see concrete action by states.

Greenstock said UN members have begun to enact legislation and ratify existing international conventions aimed at stifling support for terrorism and tracking down terrorists.

"It's not just looking at legislation; it's the actual passage of new legislation which is now going forward. The increase in ratification of the conventions and real cooperation is beginning to take place in stopping terrorist actions and the financing of terrorism, and this amounts to more than intentions. It is actually happening now."

States have been quick to ratify two conventions adopted by the General Assembly in the late 1990s. The first seeks to deny safe havens to persons wanted for terrorist bombings by obliging states to prosecute such persons if it does not extradite them. Already in force in September, about 30 states have since ratified this convention.

The second key convention obligates states either to prosecute or extradite persons accused of funding terrorist activities. It also requires banks to enact measures to identify suspicious transactions. Nearly 25 states have ratified this convention since September, and it came into force last week.

The council used provisions from these two conventions in its Resolution 1373 of late September. That resolution created the counterterrorism committee and obliged all UN members to provide information about their antiterrorism measures.

Singapore's Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani told the council that the resolution has had an obvious impact on member states. He said that in addition to improving legislation at the national level and participation in key conventions, there is improved intelligence-sharing between countries.

"We hope that the end result of all these efforts will be to close the various loopholes that exist in the international system through which the terrorists are able to operate, either in terms of their financial systems or in their movements."

Singapore itself has become actively involved in counterterrorism efforts. Last December, authorities there arrested 13 people accused of links to the terrorist Al-Qaeda organization. They were accused of plotting to bomb U.S. interests in Singapore.

Greenstock, the counterterrorism committee chairman, says 139 of the UN's 189 member states have now responded, as required to the committee, on efforts they are taking against terrorism. Many of the 50 states that have not responded are believed to require assistance in formulating legislation and other measures required by the council.

Greenstock says his committee will begin a second review of country-by-country counterterrorism efforts and will be more direct in asking states what actions they plan to take to address areas of concern. Greenstock continued to stress that, for the moment, his committee wishes to work in a cooperative way with all states and is not outlining potential punitive measures.

Meanwhile, differences over a comprehensive definition of terrorism emerged again in the council's open meeting yesterday.

Both the Syrian and Pakistani ambassadors said Israel's recent actions against Palestinians in the occupied territories must be considered a form of terrorism. Pakistani Ambassador Shamshad Ahmad said terrorists can also be defined as those who use what he called the "state apparatus" to inflict harm on people.

"If, as according to some, terrorism is defined by the act, not by the description of the perpetrators, then alien occupiers and usurpers, especially those who employ ruthless measures against people under occupation, also fit this definition."

Earlier in the day yesterday, Pakistan introduced an Islamic-sponsored resolution to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva condemning Israeli actions against Palestinians, including what it called "mass killings."

The commission approved the resolution 40 votes to five, with seven abstentions. The commission regularly passes resolutions critical of Israel, but this year's text was especially harsh due to what it considered the excessive Israeli response to terrorist attacks. The resolution included a clause affirming "the right of the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation."

The vote split the European Union, which normally votes as a bloc -- with Britain and Germany voting against the resolution. Representatives for both countries said the text did not condemn terrorism and contained language that could be interpreted as an endorsement of violence.

Israel's deputy UN envoy, Aaron Jacob, did not refer directly to the resolution during his address to the council yesterday. But he repeated the Israeli government's assertion that there can be no justification for terrorism.

"Terrorists cannot be allowed to operate with impunity, and they cannot be the recipient of political concessions. And while we must combat despair and poverty, we have to make absolutely clear, in both our words and our deeds, that there is no grievance that justifies terror."

Israeli officials accuse Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of involvement in a "terror infrastructure," aided and supplied by Arab allies.

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