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UN: Council Debate Highlights Problem Of Defining Terrorism

United Nations, 21 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of the United Nations Security Council's counter-terrorism committee has urged member states not to let what he termed "political rhetoric" harm international efforts to fight terrorism.

The chairman, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, said at a council meeting on 18 January that his committee is not empowered to take action against what some leaders have termed "state terrorism."

Greenstock said states that abuse their power should be judged by other legal instruments under international law: "The [committee's] processes will put pressure on governments to ensure in the decisions they take -- both political and administrative -- that they do not condone acts of indiscriminate violence against civilians in any political context. We have to develop an international collective conscience in this respect in which every government without exception is a participant."

Greenstock's comments touch on the main challenge facing the Security Council as it seeks to implement its resolution requiring states to track down terrorists and suppress support for them. The council is trying to assist all UN member states in passing legislation and building institutions that will help them comply with the resolution. But consensus on what constitutes terrorism will ultimately be needed at the United Nations.

After Greenstock spoke, Pakistan's ambassador, Shamshad Ahmad, condemned India's actions in mainly Muslim areas of Kashmir as state-sponsored terrorism. He said state-sponsored violence must be acknowledged as a form of terrorism.

"Those who employ the state apparatus to trample upon the fundamental and inalienable rights of people are also perpetrators of terrorism and especially those who are doing this in blatant violation of Security Council resolutions."

Earlier, Syrian UN representative Fayssal Mekdad told the council that Israel was guilty of committing terrorist acts against Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories. Mekdad, in his first public address as a council member, equated the recent Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip with the scene of destruction at the World Trade Center on 11 September, where nearly 3,000 civilians died.

But India's ambassador, Kamalesh Sharma, spoke out harshly against states that support terrorism to meet political ends.

Tensions remain high between India and Pakistan since the attack on the Indian parliament in New Delhi last month. India blames Pakistani-based militant groups, but Pakistan denies any official involvement and has pledged to crack down on such groups.

Ambassador Sharma said attempts to justify terrorism for any reason violates the Security Council resolution passed last autumn: "Left unchallenged and unaddressed, statements asserting such support and other pseudo-justifications will leave open the resolution to mischievous and self-serving misrepresentations and misinterpretations, undermining its intent."

The council meeting started on 19 January with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging respect for human rights as the council mounts its counter-terror program.

Annan told the council that the promotion of human rights, democracy, and social justice were among the best protections against terrorism.