|DHANAPALA PROPOSES INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION AGAINST TERRORISM.
1 October 2003
Former U.N. Under Secretary General for Disarmament, Jayantha Dhanapala, is actively promoting around
the world the cause he had served while in New York. Following are his remarks at an international
conference on Terrorism and Human Rights, held at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland:
The terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 by their diabolically elaborate
inter-continental planning and the tragic scale of the death and destruction, are now widely
regarded as a watershed in the global history of terrorism and political violence. This does not
minimize the impact of terrorism in other countries prior to 9/11. Nor does it trivialize the
importance of the twelve international treaties and conventions on terrorism adopted well before the
events of September 11. It is, however, a realistic assessment of the repercussions of a terrorist
attack on the nerve centres of the sole superpower in the world and the global reaction to it.
Nothing after 9/11 will be as it was before. A wounded superpower has not only been driven to act
globally on the issue of terrorism, but the entire world has responded to what is being seen as a
global campaign against terrorism. The United Nations (UN) as the only universal global body
empowered by its 191 member-states to maintain international peace and security has been at the
forefront of this renewed effort to combat the scourge of terrorism. This has helped to provide
legitimacy and universality to the campaign as well to establish forums to discuss some of its
drawbacks and omissions.
Beyond the formal condemnations of the events of 11 September 2001 adopted both by the Security
Council one day afterwards (S/RES/1368(2001)) and by the UN General Assembly on 18 September
(A/RES/56/10), the United Nations moved swiftly to adopt practical and effective measures through
international cooperation to prevent future acts of terrorism. In this connection, UN Secretary-
General Kofi Annan underlined three important principles when he addressed the opening of the 56th
session of the UN General Assembly one day after the tragic events and again on the 1st October.
These principles are as follows:
(1) "...terrorist acts are never justified no matter what considerations may be invoked." At the
same time the counter-terrorist campaign should not distract from action on other UN principles
and purposes the achievement of which could by itself reduce and eliminate terrorism.
(2) The adoption of preventive measures to be undertaken on a cooperative basis should be "in
accordance with the Charter and other relevant provisions of international law."
(3) The search for legal precision must be subordinated to 'moral clarity' on the subject of
This approach ensured that the UN reaction was not one of revenge or retribution but based, as
to be expected in a norm-based organization, on legal concepts and values. It also placed the
action to be taken in the context of the anti-terrorism conventions already adopted within the
The range of actions required of member states by Security Council Resolution 1373 was extensive
and detailed. From the very specific prohibitions regarding the financing of terrorism through
the recruitment of terrorists and supplies of weapons to them, to the actual exchange of
information in tracking the activities of terrorist groups, the Resolution had the cumulative
impact of setting rigorous barriers against global terrorism under Chapter VII of the Charter
which are mandatory for all member states to observe. Operative paragraph 6 of the resolution was
perhaps the most important in practical terms because it set up a committee -- later to be called
the Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC) -- which was to ensure and monitor the implementation of the
resolution 1373. A specific timetable was recommended for member states to report to the committee
and for the committee to submit a work programme to the Security Council.
An important feature of the CTC's intense activity has been the personality of the Chairman, U.K.
Permanent Representative Sir Jeremy Greenstock. Whether the Committee can sustain this level of
activity without actually providing any resources to assist member states is doubtful. There is
also the fact that member states outside the Security Council may not feel the same sense of
ownership and participation in the CTC's activities in the long term. Their role in submitting
information to the CTC may not be sufficient for them since decision-making is confined to
members of the Security Council only. Individual components of the UN system such as the UN Office
on Drugs and Crime, the IAEA and other operational bodies are perceived to be more likely to be
responsive to the needs of member states than the CTC. The CTC may, on the other hand, move from a
post-office or intermediary function to a more assertive one.
The General Assembly's response to the events of September 11, 2001, was firstly the adoption of
a resolution one week after the tragedy condemning the acts of terrorism. Thereafter, in a general
debate a large number of member states participated making it abundantly clear that there was
broad unanimity on condemning the acts of terrorism against the USA but differences persisted over
the definition of terrorism and ways and means to combat the phenomenon. Moreover, the General
Assembly held a separate debate from1 to 5 October on measures to eliminate international terrorism.
As a consequence of the speedy action on the part of the Security Council a separate resolution was
considered redundant on the part of the General Assembly.
The response of the UN Secretariat to the events of 9/11 was of course embodied mainly in the
many eloquent statements of the Secretary-General. Among the themes he emphasized was the need to
build on the wave of solidarity that 9/11 had caused so that the momentum would not be lost in
developing a long-term counter-terrorism strategy. The need to implement the 12 international
legal conventions already in existence to combat terrorism was another theme. The need to agree on
a comprehensive convention on international terrorism was also stressed. On this the Secretary-
General was unambiguous. He said "I understand that there are outstanding issues, which until now
have prevented agreement on this convention. Some of the most difficult issues relate to the
definition of terrorism. I understand and accept the need for legal precision...But let me say
frankly, that there is also a need for moral clarity. There can be no acceptance of those who
would seek to justify the deliberate taking of innocent civilian life, regardless of cause or
grievance." The Secretary-General has also frequently warned against the potential use of weapons
of mass destruction in future acts of terrorism urging the adoption of measures to prevent this.
A more co-ordinated Secretariat response to the challenges posed by 9/11 came through a Policy
Working Group established in October 2001 by the Secretary-General 'to identify the long-term
implications and broad policy dimensions of the issue of terrorism for the United Nations.'
The Group's report, while wisely recommending that the UN should focus on areas where it had a
clear comparative advantage, emphasized how terrorism stood to undermine the purposes and principles
of the UN Charter and had therefore to be effectively countered. The tripartite strategy
proposed was as follows:
(a) Dissuade affected groups from embracing terrorism
(b) Deny groups or individuals the means to carry out acts of terrorism
(c) Co-operate internationally in the struggle against terrorism and its multi-faceted nature.
Following a survey of the UN's response to the gauntlet thrown down by the terrorists on
September 11, 2001, it is necessary to evaluate this record as a basis for future action. Terrorism
must be seen in context. It is undoubtedly a pernicious evil that affects all nations big and
small, rich and poor. Counter-terrorism is but one of the tools we must use in ushering in a
better and safer world. It cannot diminish efforts in other priority areas of work such as the
war on poverty, the struggle to eliminate HIV/AIDS, the promotion of human rights and disarmament.
The very complexity of terrorism as a phenomenon requires a broader approach than is offered today
by the CTC.
Another important aspect is that the vital relationship between countering terrorism and maintaining
human rights has not been fully explored in the CTC. Mary Robinson, her successor as the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, and numerous human rights NGOs have all
spoken out against the circumvention of due process of the law, the secrecy surrounding counter-
terrorist measures especially when directed against foreigners in countries and the racial and
religious profiling directed especially against Arabs and Muslims. Democracies as well as
dictatorships have been guilty of this curtailment of civil liberties justifying their actions
on the basis of countering terrorism. Let me quote UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan again -- "There
is no trade-off between effective action against terrorism and the protection of human rights."
The problem is evidently a serious preoccupation among human rights experts today.
In parallel with the useful work done by the CTC and complementary to it, a functional commission
of the UN's Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) should be established on terrorism. This would be
analogous to other ECOSOC functional commissions such as the Commission on Human Rights and would
help harmonize the work of the two bodies. Article 68 of the UN Charter empowers ECOSOC to 'set up
commissions in economic and social fields and for the promotion of human rights and such other
commissions as may be required for the performance of its functions.' The international situation
requires that a separate commission be established on International Terrorism. It would provide
the international community with an annual opportunity of a session devoted to a detailed
examination of individual terrorist issues and situations in a co-ordinated effort to reduce and
eliminate the scourge of terrorism. The Commission on Terrorism should ideally meet in Vienna
serviced by the Office of Drugs and Crime located there. It should have all relevant UN
Departments, funds and programmes and specialized agencies address it from their individual
perspectives together with inter-governmental, regional and sub-regional organizations, the ICRC
and NGOs. This rich kaleidoscope of views and presentations could benefit member states greatly
in their struggle against terrorism beyond the purely law and order approach. Without in any way
justifying terrorism, a multi-faceted approach which sees the root causes as well as the
manifestations and ramifications of terrorism of the problem will better equip the international
community in the critical task of preventing terrorism. This approach will also give member
states not in the Security Council greater sense of participation and ownership in the UN's efforts
to combat terrorism. It will be consonant with the spirit of Article 1 of the UN Charter by being
an effective collective measure and a peaceful means to prevent and remove a threat to international
peace and security.