IAIN WATSON: The mood was optimistic
at the creation of a new organisation devoted to saving the world from
the scourge of war. A fresh era of co-operation was promised by the US
President Harry Truman.
US PRESIDENT HARRY TRUMAN: The Charter of the United Nations, which
you are now signing, is a solid structure upon which we can build for a
WATSON: That was 1945 and the hope
then was that conventional conflict could be consigned to history. But
the fight against fascism has given way to the fight against fanaticism
and the United Nations will now face unprecedented scrutiny in how it deals
with this more contemporary challenge.
A month ago, the UN Security
Council passed its hardest hitting anti-terrorist resolution ever. Resolution
1373 gives states just ninety days to report back on what they were doing
to weed out the terrorist networks in their midst. But behind this robust
rhetoric lies some potentially intractable problems - it's easier to condemn
terrorism, for example, than to define it. And what happens if some states
miss the deadline and fail to report on what they're doing to tackle the
It's Britain which may
have to come up with the answers, as the task of progress-chasing falls
our our very own UN Ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.
SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: There is today, now, a threat from
terrorism to international peace and security.
WATSON: Sir Jeremy chairs the new
Counter Terrorism committee consisting of representatives from all the
members of the UN Security Council. His committee has to monitor the implementation
of resolution 1373, which has been given the full force of international
LORD HANNAY: The UN has condemned terrorism
on a number of occasions, it's produced a number of conventions that deal
with some of the symptoms of terrorism but it's never had such a sharply
focused and action oriented approach to terrorism before.
WATSON: But some say the Security
Council should ensure that resolution 1373 isn't just a symbolic act -
nations must face up to their responsibilities.
DANIEL TAUB: If you have terrorists operating
in your midst, out of your territory and you take no steps to stop then,
then you're not being neutral in the war against terrorism, you're actually
being an accomplice in those terrorist acts and I think the implementation
of 1373 has to reflect this.
WATSON: Resolution 1373 makes seventeen
demands on the UN's one-hundred-and-eighty-nine members; the events of
September the eleventh shocked states into agreeing sweeping anti-terrorist
measures. Member nations have been told to find and then cut off the
funding of terrorist groups 'without delay', as well as crack down on anyone
who is 'active or passive' in their support of terrorist acts, but according
to a key member of the Security Council, countries won't be so much compelled
to comply as cajoled.
AMBASSADOR SERGEY LAVROV: It's a positive inducement if you wish
for countries to join anti-terrorist conventions. It is not coercive,
it is not creating any police mechanism, it created a committee which is
to help countries to improve their legislation, to speed up the ratification
procedures and to create mechanisms at the national level which would be
part of international network of exchange of information data etc. So it's
a very positive approach, it's not accusing anybody, it's trying to be
WATSON: But there's a trickier
problem than what to do about states that willfully, or incompetently,
fail to comply with UN resolution 1373. That's because some states may
say they're doing all that's required of them in tackling terrorists. The
trouble is, in the words of the old cliche, one person's terrorist is another's
freedom fighter. And it's this problem of perception which goes to the
very core of why the UN resolution may be so difficult to implement.
WATSON: There's broad international
agreement that Osama Bin Laden is a terrorist, but some Muslim states say
those who fight directly for their homeland, such as the Palestinians,
shouldn't be classified in the same way.
AMBASSADOR AHMED ABOULGHEIT: One of the elements that, that were
really perplexing in that, in that resolution, though in general we supported
in Egypt, was that there was no definition for the word terrorism, what
do we mean by terrorism? When Palestinians would show opposition to soldiers
and uniformed personnel of the Israeli armed forces trying to fight against
them while they are occupying their own territories, that I also understand.
WATSON: Fifteen people were killed
when a Jerusalem pizza restaurant was destroyed in August by a suicide
bomber from the militant Palestinian group Hamas. The Lebanese based movement,
Hezbollah, has also used suicide bombers. If any definition of terrorism
was to exclude these groups simply because they say they are fighting for
self-determination then some say the countries which sponsor them - including
Iran -would evade their responsibilities.
TAUB: Both of them are terrorist
groups under Israeli law and we would like to see them prosecuted and every
measure taken against them to stop their funding, to stop their atrocities
being perpetrated, not just by Israel but by the entire international community.
WATSON: The United Nations has
conventions stretching back three decades condemning specific terrorist
acts, such as hijacking, but has never actually come up with a catch-all
definition of terrorism itself. The UN's committee of legal experts is
currently trying to do just that. But one senior UN official told me that
defining terrorism is quote 'a turbulent' issue - if we haven't done this
in thirty years of trying, he admitted, we are unlikely to do so now.
But some countries are
still searching hard for international agreement. The Indian government
has proposed a new convention on the suppression of terrorism, which could
become the vehicle for a definition of terrorism itself. Although discussions
are continuing, a current draft suggests any group which deliberately targets
civilians should not be able to use the high minded defence of political
motivation to excuse acts of terror.
AMBASSADOR KAMALESH SHARMA: The loss of innocent lives is a particular
fixation of the definition, the act of terrorism is conducted indiscriminately,
at random, and involves innocent people and this is what we understand
WATSON: But the United Nations
as a whole may not agree a definition of terrorism based on acts against
civilians; some nations say that attacks on the military should be seen
as terrorist in nature too .
LAVROV: When you see terrorism
you know that this is terrorism and the trick is just to find words which
would describe this. There are terrorist acts against military personnel,
for example recently a helicopter was downed in Georgia and the helicopter
was a UN helicopter with some military personnel on board and the Security
Council immediately qualified this as a terrorist act. So I wouldn't say
that attacks against military would not be considered universally as terrorist
attacks under certain conditions.
WATSON: The current Palestinian
uprising, or Intifada, is in its second year. This conflict highlights
why a definition of terrorism based on acts against civilians is so difficult.
Are stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators killed by Israeli bullets
innocent civilians? Or what about Israeli settlers who are under attack
for occupying land which the Palestinians, and the United Nations, say
doesn't belong to them?
ABOULGHEIT: Let us take that action of
a Palestinian shooting at those settlers or colonisers in the midst of
Palestinian territory. And that settler or coloniser is carrying an M-16
rifle and he's moving all the time with his rifle trying to impose his
will on the Palestinians by building settlements inside Palestinian territory.
And they are waging war against him. In my opinion, in all humility I
feel that that is a legal struggle for the attainment of self-determination
and to stop someone from acquiring and enforcing his will on my land, on
LORD HANNAY: The point I would make is
that if they send suicide bombers into civilian areas to kill people on
buses or in shopping precincts or in restaurants or something, they are
terrorists. They prove that by their action, it's not what their intentions
are, their intentions may be capable of being expressed in the most wonderfully
convincing language, all about Palestine, statehood and so on. I'm afraid
that's irrelevant if they use these means.
WATSON: With such differing views
of what constitutes terrorism, it could be difficult to secure compliance
with resolution 1373. Some prominent Muslim states who oppose Bin Laden
would nonetheless be alienated by any heavy handed action towards Palestinian
terrorists; but a softly-softly approach would upset those countries
which will judge the Counter-Terrorism Committee by its actions and not
TAUB: Well 1373 is really only
a starting point and here I think all eyes are on the CTC, the Counter
Terrorism Committee to see how they undertake their mandate. Obviously
if they only view themselves as being some sort of post-box where states
report on what they feel was necessary to fight terrorism, that would be
tremendously disappointing. 1373 was a remarkable result of a tremendous
resolve in the international community that was sparked by the bombings
of September eleventh. I think it's very important for us to try and ensure
that that resolve is maintained and that the pressure is kept up on those
states that do fail to comply or don't comply satisfactorily with the resolution.
WATSON: The UN's Counter-Terrorism
Committee has a task of encouraging member states to crack down on terrorist
networks. But unless every states is given a clear idea of what constitutes
terrorism in the first place and faces genuine penalties for non-compliance,
then the inspirational anti-terrorist rhetoric of resolution 1373 may take
some time to be transformed into reality.