Politics & Policy

U.N.Derwhelming Response

The U.N.'s approach to terrorism.

In the weeks immediately following 9/11 there is another anniversary–that of the U.N.’s response to the global threat of terrorism. On September 28, 2001, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, which requires states to take steps to combat terrorism.

That resolution has proved, however, to be the high-water mark. Despite Senator Kerry’s repeated calls for greater U.N. involvement in the war on terror, the organization’s contribution has gone downhill ever since.

Three years after resolution 1373 was passed, the U.N. still can’t even define terrorism. Member states are essentially divided into two camps. In one corner is the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) composed of 56 states insisting that terrorism excludes the “armed struggle for liberation and self-determination.” More precisely, blowing up Israelis of all ages in cafes, synagogues, buses, and discotheques is considered legitimate. In the other corner is the rest of the world.

For eight years the U.N. has been struggling to adopt a comprehensive convention against terrorism. But it cannot finish the task because the OIC continues to hold out for an Israeli exclusion clause. Another round of bogus negotiations is scheduled for early October. No U.N. member state is prepared to change the rules and insist that a vote be called in the absence of consensus.

The upshot is one line on the U.N. website devoted to the definition of terrorism. It refers interested parties to the ongoing discussion over a terrorism convention that “would include a definition of terrorism if adopted.”

The U.N.’s inability to identify a terrorist has real-life implications. In the last month, the Security Council has been faced with terrorist acts in Beslan, Russia, and in Israel. A recent bombing in Beersheva, Israel, claimed 16 lives and wounded 100 from a population of under seven million. The hostage-taking in Russia left 326 dead and 727 wounded out of a population of over 143 million. Proportionally, the trauma was as great in Israel.

The Security Council deadlocked over the Beersheva attacks and no unified presidential statement was possible. Instead there was a statement to the press saying council members (read: some, not all) condemned the bombings along with “all other acts of terrorism” (code for “Israel engages in terrorism too”). During the debate, Security Council members Algeria and Pakistan maintained a position of “principle”–there should be no double-standards, no singling out of one act, no selective condemnation. That was August 31.

On September 1 the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on behalf of the council as a whole concerning Beslan. It strongly condemned the attack, expressing the deepest sympathy with the people and government of Russia and urging all states to cooperate with Russian authorities in bringing to justice the perpetrators, organizers, and sponsors of the terrorist acts.

Of course the council couldn’t mirror such calls when it came to Israeli victims, since the perpetrators, organizers, and sponsors of Palestinian terrorism start with Yasser Arafat and end in the protectorates of Damascus and Tehran. What happened to Resolution 1373?

The resolution’s legal requirements are impressive: to “refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts”; to “take the necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts”; to “deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts”; and to “prevent those who finance, plan, facilitate or commit terrorist acts from using their respective territories for those purposes against other States or their citizens…”

To implement these obligations, 1373 gave birth to a Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC). The CTC then spawned 517 state reports about all the steps being taken to implement the resolution. Among them is the most recent report from Syria–headquarters of Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and others featured on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations. It informs the Security Council about “procedures and measures adopted and in force in the Syrian Arab Republic aimed at the suppression….and prevention of terrorist crimes, and…the denial of safe haven, refuge, assistance or any form of help in the territory of…Syria.”

A parallel universe, one in which the U.N.’s chief global response to 9/11–the Counter-Terrorism Committee–has never managed to name a single terrorist organization or individual, or a singe state sponsor of terrorism.

Another U.N. committee was created in 1999 under Security Council Resolution 1267, in response to al Qaeda and the Taliban. This so-called sanctions committee has never agreed about which states have failed to comply with their obligations, nor has it given the council a list of delinquent states for further action.

Meanwhile, almost all of the rest of the world stands paralyzed, intimidated, or furiously giving campaign speeches about U.N. multilateralism as the sensitive way forward in the war against terror.

Anne Bayefsky is an international lawyer and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Anne Bayefsky — Professor A.F. Bayefsky, B.A., M.A., LL.B., M.Litt. (Oxon.), is a Professor at York University, Toronto, Canada, and a Barrister and Solicitor, Ontario Bar. She is also an Adjunct Professor at ...


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