Thursday, March 23, 2006

Defining terrorism at the U.N.

The Washington Times
March 23, 2006

The United States is currently engaged in protracted negotiations with Islamic and Third World nations over a definition of terrorism -- a question that continues to block the adoption of a U.N. Comprehensive Anti-Terror Convention.
A stalemate has developed because the United States and Britain want the convention to define terrorism in a commonsense fashion that would include organizations like Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, while the Organization of the Islamic Conference wants to leave the door open for wars of "national liberation" against Israel -- and possibly against U.S. military forces in Iraq as well.
Washington had initially hoped to achieve an agreement on the issue last fall, at the start of the 60th anniversary session of the U.N. General Assembly. But U.N. legal committee drafters of the treaty ended a week-long meeting on the convention earlier this month without setting a date to reconvene. While informal discussions of the issue continue, the respective sides appear to be no closer to agreeing on a definition of terrorism than they were in September.
This is a critical step, because without a definition, there is no common ground for international cooperation on the issue. This would leave any country free to define terrorism narrowly in order to continue providing assistance to violent groups seeking to advance their political goals.
On its Web site, the OIC's principles for "Combating International Terrorism" include the following language that has been used to justify decades of violence against Israel: "Confirming the legitimacy of the right of peoples to struggle against foreign occupation and colonialialist and racist regimes by all means, including armed struggle to liberate their territories."
According to Victor Comras -- a career diplomat who served as a top aide to Secretary of States Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell -- the OIC is putting forward such language in an effort to get itself "wiggle room" to continue to support terrorism when convenient -- particularly against Israel. The same language can also be used to legitimize violence by Abu Musab Zarqawi against U.S. forces in Iraq.
The United States appears to have a clear negotiating position: While Washington may accept language in the preamble to the terrorism convention recognizing a general right to self-determination, it will not permit creation of a massive legal loophole that that terrorists and their state sponsors can use to justify mass murder. That strikes us as the right balance.

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