UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations, which was on the verge of adopting a new
international convention against nuclear terrorism, has been forced to shelve
the proposed treaty because of opposition from Islamic states.
"After six years of protracted negotiations, the final draft was ready
for adoption by the UN Legal Committee last week," a Third World diplomat
said Tuesday. "But it hit a snag over definitions of terrorism and military
exemptions," he said.
Rohan Perera, chairman of the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism, who piloted
the 28-article draft treaty, admitted that an eleventh-hour hitch had prevented
adoption of the convention.
"We will meet early next year to continue our discussions," Perera told IPS.
"We are hopeful of resolving the outstanding issues."
The treaty not only obligates states to extradite anyone committing an offense
with a nuclear explosive device but also outlaws the possession of radioactive
material by non-state actors.
The United States is sticking by a contentious article in the draft treaty
that says the activities of armed forces in as much as they are subject to
rules of international law will not be governed by the proposed convention.
Muslim countries are not only opposed to this military exemption, which they
say will provide governments such as Israel with free passage to "state terrorism,"
but are also demanding a clearer distinction between a "terrorist" and a "freedom
These countries are also pushing for an international conference on terrorism
in order to agree on a definition of the term.
"A universally accepted definition of terrorism must be agreed upon, so that
terrorism is not confused with the struggle of peoples for self-determination,"
says Emine Gokcen Tugral of Turkey.
Speaking on behalf of the 56-member Organization
of Islamic Conferences (OIC), she told delegates last week that the OIC
believed the proposed treaty should differentiate between terrorism and the
struggle for self-determination against foreign occupation.
In singling this out, the OIC is implicitly hinting at the U.S.-led military
occupation of Iraq and the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories.
The United Nations already has 12 core conventions and protocols relating to
terrorism, the last two being the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression
of Terrorist Bombings and the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression
of the Financing of Terrorism.
Ambassador Andrey Denisov of Russia sided with the United States when he insisted
that the clause exempting armed forces be kept intact in the proposed convention.
"The question of extending a provision in the draft text to cover the activities
of armed forces of states should be accepted," he added.
Ever since the break up of the former Soviet Union in the late 1980s, military
experts and peace activists have warned that the world continues to face the
threat of "loose nukes."
The International Physicians
for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a U.S.-based non-governmental
organization (NGO) advocating a nuclear weapons-free world, says it takes the
threat of nuclear terrorism very seriously and welcomes actions to reduce that
"The most important step to prevent nuclear terrorism is that the nuclear
weapons states fulfill their obligations to the complete elimination of nuclear
weapons," Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford of IPPNW told IPS.
The reason the world faces the risk of nuclear terrorism, she argues, is that
the eight nuclear states continue to hold more than 30,000 nuclear weapons,
with some 4,000 on alert, ready to launch on warning.
The proposed UN treaty, Ashford added, would not completely eliminate that
"Because the threat or use of nuclear weapons by states is not included in
this convention, this agreement must be regarded as a useful step in reducing
the legitimacy of nuclear weapons, and a step toward tighter control of fissile
materials, but more a stop-gap measure than a decisively effective action,"
Ashford also argued that effective prevention of terrorism hinges on the important
work of addressing its root causes in economic inequality and injustice, and
the exploitation and oppression of people in countries where hopelessness fuels
Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle
East Report, says the UN debate over "terrorism" reflects
that the term has "for all intents and purposes become an ethno-religiously-based
term, even a racial epithet used to dehumanize, more than a neutral definition
of a specific form of political violence, namely that which is deliberately,
knowingly, or indiscriminately directed against civilians."
"Thus a Palestinian who deliberately kills an Israeli child is a terrorist;
an Israeli who deliberately kills a Palestinian child is a soldier or settler,"
Rabbani told IPS.
This seems to be the observable rule in virtually every conflict in which Arab
or Muslim protagonists are involved against non-Arab, non-Muslim adversaries,
who generally engage in identical practices, more often than not on a considerably
larger scale, he added.
Secondly, the definition of "terrorism" has been further skewed and distorted
by serving as a label for political violence often any form of political
violence by non-state actors, rather than as a definition of a specific form
of political violence irrespective of its perpetrator.
"The official U.S. definition of terrorism in fact excludes, as a matter
of definition, states from direct culpability. That is why the State Department
even in reference to [former President] Saddam Hussein's Iraq
only speaks of 'state sponsors' of terrorism; by definition there are only terrorist
Given the historical background and current ideological climate, he added,
it is hardly surprising that Arab and Muslim states at the United Nations are
demanding a clear, precise, and neutral definition of terrorism one that
defines it on the basis of actions rather than the identity of the perpetrator.
In the context of negotiations about a convention on nuclear terrorism, eliminating
distinctions based on the ethno-religious or organizational identity of potential
perpetrators is a vital concern, he said.
"It seems Israel's nuclear monopoly in the Middle East has in this respect
only stiffened the OIC's resolve," Rabbani concluded.
(Inter Press Service)