45th Session Issues
Terrorism, according to the 1937 convention on terrorism was described as: "criminal acts directed against a state and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons, or a group of persons or the general public." The intent of terrorism is clearly political. They are premeditated acts in which groups, state or non-state, use to manipulate the political attitudes of the population. Its intent is psychological and symbolic, the acts are not meant to defeat either side but to instill fear among the population.
In 1972 at the 27th session of the UN General Assembly, the issue of "International Terrorism" was discussed under the agenda item 92, as "Measures to prevent international terrorism which endangers or takes innocent human lives or jeopardizes fundamental freedoms, and study of underlying causes of those forms of terrorism and acts of violence which lie in misery frustration, grievance and despair and which cause some people to sacrifice human lives, including their own, in an attempt to effect radical changes."
However, because of the diverse positions in the body of the General Assembly and because of the "loose wording" of item 92, neither the 27th or 28th Session could work out any specific measures to identify acts of terrorism. The representatives from the First World nations wanted to use the discussion of "international terrorism" in the UN to extend this concept to national liberation movements and other political struggles in the world. In contrast, many nations of the Third World, wanted to talk about the issues of the underlying causes of terrorism which lie in the misery, despair, and alienation of the people, that induces them to commit acts that can even cost them their own lives.
At the end of the 1970s as concerns with hostage taking grew, an ad hoc committee appointed by the UN General Assembly drafted a convention on hostage taking. This issue was adopted by the convention without any opposition in December 1979. The problems with the taking of diplomatic hostages in Teheran, which was condemned by the international community, made the consensus possible among the governments to oppose and act against diplomatic hostage situations.
In the 1980s, as the terrorist acts continued, the United Nations in spite of its many condemnations, was not able to find any way of enforcing any sanctions. Groups such as Hizbollah, kidnaped a UN officer of US nationality Lt. Col. Williams Higgins in 1988, the UN condemned the abduction and demanded the immediate release but the group disregarded the UN Security Council's mandate and killed the officer. In spite of the efforts by the United Nations to achieve peace in the Middle East and to stop the acts of terror, there are still groups that continue to carry out terrorist actions in the region.
In recent decades, the daily news is filtered with terrorist acts. These acts take a variety of forms: bombings, shootings, hijacking, kidnappings, assassinations, repression, genocide. The question thus becomes: what role should the UN take to combat and punish terrorist acts. For the UN it is a difficult task to decide upon; because clearly the problem is charged with controversy. The saying: "one person's terrorist is another's freedom fighter," illustrates the difficulties when dealing with the issue of international terrorism.
Terrorism is not exclusive of authoritarian and repressive regimes, we can also see this problem in democratic societies . It can be said that these terrorist organizations can operate in democratic regimes without much surveillance, which makes these societies easy targets of these groups.
The international community is divided on this issue, while some nations can sympathize with their political objectives, other nations, such as those victimized by these groups, are looking for viable solutions to this issue. In the case of the bombing of the Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland, the Security Council adopted the same stance on terrorism and drafted a resolution which called for "research and action" directed towards the means of detecting plastic or sheet explosives.
Furthermore, Britain and the United States claimed to have evidence which implicated two Lybians in the bombing of flight 103. They issued a warrant for their arrest, however, Lybia denied that any of its nationals were involved in any terrorist incident. Other nations condone their presence, such as Italy which refused the extradiction of Abu Abbas and a Palestinian colleague to the United States because of their participation in the Achille Lauro highjacking and the assassination of an American passenger. Italy not only refused, but allowed them to flee to Yugoslavia.
For this reason, perhaps, few cases are brought to the attention of the Security Council. However, those that are brought to their attention, such as in the case of Israel's complaints that its Arab neighbors were "harboring terrorist gangs," are sometimes symbolic in nature, because Israel did not ask the Security Council to take any action in particular.
The Resolutions by the General Assembly on the issue of international terrorism, has been handed over to all the nation states, "to fulfill their obligation under international law to refrain from organizing, instigating, or participating in terrorist acts in other states, or acquiescing in or encouraging activities within their territories ."
What should be done in the case of Iran and Sudan for example, which have outwardly promoted and supported terrorist acts? Or with the issue of state terrorism? The U.S State Department estimates that there are more than 600 international terrorist acts a year. Moreover, of these acts only 16 have been brought to the Security Council over the years. The question still lingers: What should the United Nations do to combat and punish terrorist acts? Following are a series of issues to be addressed.
1. The examples used in this paper are not the only ones that can be discussed and included into the issue of International Terrorism. The Middle East is not the only region where terrorism is a problem. The (FLQ), Front de Libération du Quebec in Canada, the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in the British Isles or any other group for that matter, which any nation sees as terrorist, can be part of the debate.