Sunday, September 18, 2005


The following editorial appeared in the Jordan Atimes, Amman, Sunday,Sept. 18.

The world's leaders last week got as close as they could to outlawing terrorism, but still steered clear of defining it. This came about when the UN Security Council met on Wednesday at the head-of-state level to adopt a resolution calling on states to outlaw any incitement or encouragement to terrorism, but skirted around the contentious subject of stating precisely what qualifies as terrorism.

Unfortunately, UN member states still cannot agree on something that should have been relatively easy to define, ostensibly because of the political implication and ramifications associated with drawing a crystal clear line between terrorism and acts of liberation. Yet, all nations know very well what terrorism is all about, although they are not quite ready to commit themselves to clearly defined boundaries that separate terrorism from lawful resort to arms.

The definition of terrorism has defied the international community for decades. There was a determined effort to give terrorism a legal expression at the Rome Conference that adopted the Final Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), at Turkey's initiative, in a bid to include it on the list of international crimes that would come within the jurisdiction of the ICC. Ankara's initiative failed to win wide support for the very same reasons that prevented the international community and the UN Security Council to come up with an internationally recognised definition of terrorism. Despite this apparent failure, there are already sufficient “legal hints” on what constitutes terrorism. The Geneva humanitarian law prohibits the killing of non-combatants or targeting civilians, especially children, women and the elderly.

This alone should have been enough to provide a legal basis for a definition of terrorism. Yet the international community could not see the obvious! The UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also came close to outlawing terrorism when it stipulated, in Article 20, that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence [and] shall be prohibited by law.” It goes without saying that terrorism as we know it entails all elements of incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.

Why the world leaders' summit could not come up with a definition of terrorism defies logic and common sense. By confining themselves to outlawing any incitement, encouragement or promotion of terrorism without giving the phenomenon a workable definition, the leaders who represented their nations at the UN Security Council have obviously failed in one of their most important missions.

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