Copyrighted material

U.S. Opposes International Conference on Terrorism

by Thalif Deen

NATO bombing could be considered terrorist act
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United States has expressed strong reservations over a Third World proposal for a major international conference to combat terrorism.

U.S. delegate Robert Rosenstock says such a conference will have no "practical benefits."

"The issues suggested as possible subjects at such a conference had historically confounded a practical solution," he warns.

The proposed conference, backed by the 119-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of Third World nations, will try to tackle several sensitive subjects, including one of the most politically-divisive issues at the United Nations: how to distinguish a "terrorist" from a "freedom fighter."

Should Hizbollah fighters, battling to oust the Israeli army from southern Lebanon, be labeled terrorists or freedom fighters? Is Hamas, which is engaged in a bloody fight over the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, a liberation movement or a terrorist organization?

An equally controversial issue that could come up at the conference is the subject of "state terrorism." For example, should military attacks by armed forces of any State be deemed acts of terrorism when civilians are killed?

Another question is the extent to which last year's NATO bombings of the former Yugoslavia could be regarded as acts of terrorism and a violation of the national sovereignty of a UN member state.

An argument could also be made that the continued Israeli aerial bombing of southern Lebanon is a classic example of State terrorism.

Cuba also claims to be victim of state terrorism
These are some of the issues that came up before the UN's Ad hoc Committee on Terrorism when it began a February debate on the feasibility of holding an international conference on terrorism.

Rosenstock told the Committee that a conference on terrorism would distract from pragmatic measures that could and should be taken -- such as steps to facilitate and encourage universal adherence to the 11 terrorism conventions adopted by the United Nations.

The U.S. delegate also pointed out that an effective vehicle to discuss these issues would be the 188-member General Assembly, which annually adopts more than half a dozen UN resolutions relating to terrorism.

Rosenstock questioned whether an international conference on terrorism would be "a useful stimulus or a costly distraction."

Ambassador Gao Feng of China, on the other hand, said his government supported the convening of a conference, and believed that such a high-level meeting would facilitate a consensus on combating terrorism.

"It would, furthermore, deter terrorists," he said, arguing that "terrorism was a serious scourge faced by the international community that undermined and indiscriminately violated the life and property of innocent people."

"China opposed terrorist acts by anybody for any purpose," he added.

John Holmes of Canada told the Committee that a successful meeting on terrorism would be possible only if there was a broad consensus both on the outcome and the format of the conference.

Canada, he said, was open to the idea of an international conference, but a lot of work needed to be done to build a consensus.

Holmes said that Canada stressed the importance of implementing treaties that had already been concluded. Everyone, he said, should be working actively to get the treaties signed.

During the last three years, the United Nations has established two new conventions: the International Convention For the Suppression of Terrorist Financing (1999) and the UN Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997).

Meanwhile, India has proposed a comprehensive omnibus convention against terrorism which will combine elements of all 11 existing conventions into a single treaty.

Abdul Munim al-Kadhe of Iraq said one of the weaknesses of UN conventions was that they did not have a clear-cut definition of terrorism.

"Any definition of terrorism should take into account the distinction between terrorism and the legitimate struggle of peoples for recovery of their lands and freedom," he pointed out.

Houssam Asaad Diab of Lebanon said Israeli aggression against Lebanon and Lebanese civilians were prime examples of State terrorism.

"The use of State force against civilians for political purposes was clearly State terrorism," he added.

Rafael Dausa Cespedes of Cuba told the Committee that for the past 40 years, the people of Cuba had been the victims of terrorism "encouraged and tolerated by neighboring countries."

In January, he said, an aircraft based in the U.S. and crewed by residents of the U.S. violated Cuban air space and overflew a no-fly zone, which included a group of buildings in densely populated areas, dropping objects that endangered and terrorized citizens.

"The impunity with which individuals in the U.S. had acted in planning and financing activities against Cuba illustrated how such acts had been encouraged for four decades," he added.

At the end of last year, he said, a group of North Americans who had confessed to attempts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro while he was visiting Venezuela were allowed to go free.

The convening of an international conference on terrorism, he argued, could represent a significant contribution toward the definition of terrorism and help devise practical measures to deal with terrorism.

The Committee, which adjourned its week-long session on Feb. 18, is expected to meet in September to study the proposal further.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor April 3, 2000 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.