UN summit to mull definition of terrorism


Sun, Jul 24, 2005 - Page 7

A revised blueprint for UN reform for world leaders to consider adopting at an upcoming summit includes a political definition of terrorism for the first time, which indicates broad support on a contentious global issue.

If approved by the leaders in September, the definition could break the impasse over a comprehensive treaty against terrorism which has been stalled for years over the question: who is a terrorist? That debate has focused especially on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the issue that one nation's terrorists are another's freedom fighters.

The blueprint issued Friday would commit world leaders to adopting a comprehensive convention against terrorism by September 2006. Negotiations are expected to resume shortly in the UN General Assembly's legal committee, which would have to turn the political definition into legal language.

A comprehensive treaty, first proposed by India, would incorporate key elements from more than a dozen anti-terrorism conventions already on the books. The aim is to raise worldwide standards for fighting terrorism.

The first reform proposal by General Assembly President Jean Ping, released in early June, avoided the contentious issues of defining terrorism, Security Council expansion and guidelines for using force. It called for governments to pay more attention to alleviating poverty and ensuring human rights.

Ping's new blueprint not only gives a political definition of terrorism but spells out how two new UN bodies would be established: a Peacebuilding Commission to ensure that countries emerging from conflict don't start fighting again and a Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights.

The Geneva-based commission has been criticized for allowing the worst-offending countries to use their membership to protect each other from condemnation for human rights abuses. The latest draft said members of the new council should be elected on the basis of regional balance and their contribution "to the promotion and protection of human rights.''

In addition, the new blueprint outlines a series of UN management reforms -- a key US demand -- and elaborates on what to do to stop genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The new draft would authorize the Security Council to take action to stop such atrocities "should peaceful means prove insufficient and national authorities be unwilling or unable to protect their populations.'' The document has also been revised to reflect action taken earlier this month by the Group of Eight major industrialized nations at their summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, to increase resources to support development efforts in poor countries, primarily in Africa. One of the goals of the summit is to agree on ways to meet UN development goals, including cutting extreme poverty by half by 2015.