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Counter-Terrorism Law and Practice: An International Handbook

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14 THE UNITED NATIONS IN THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM Javier Rupérez* I. INTRODUCTION International efforts to eliminate terrorism started years before the United Nations was established. Terrorism was of concern to the international community as early as 1937, when the League of Nations prepared a draft convention for the prevention and punishment of terrorism. The draft convention defined terrorism as: “All criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public.” 1 Although this convention never came into existence and the definition ignores acts against civilians, rather than against the State per se, it did serve as a point of reference for later discussion of terrorism when the United Nations and regional intergovernmental organizations dealt with the issue from a legal and political perspective. II. THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY Despite many years of debate, the General Assembly has thus far been unable to agree on a definition of terrorism. But lack of agreement on a definition does not mean that the international community has made no progress in combating the problem. The United Nations and other international organizations have managed to formulate ad hoc conventions dealing with specific forms of terrorism. Since 1963, the international community has elaborated 13 legal instruments related to the prevention and suppression of international terrorism 2 . The most recent, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, was opened for signature on 14 September 2005. Over the years, levels of awareness of the phenomenon of terrorism has depended on the experience of the international community as a whole at any given time. Following the attack on Lod airport, near Tel Aviv, and the kidnapping and killing of 11 Israeli athletes during the Olympic Games at Munich in 1972, the issue of terrorism became the epicenter of attention and contention in the General Assembly when, by note dated 8 September 1972, then Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim requested the General Assembly to include in the agenda of its twenty-seventh session an additional item of an important and urgent character, entitled “Measures to prevent terrorism and other forms of violence which endanger or take innocent human lives or jeopardize fundamental freedoms” 3 . * Executive Director, Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, United Nations. The views expressed in this paper are not necessarily those of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee. 1 19 League of Nations O. J. 23 (1938) (never entered into force). 2 These are: The Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft (1963); The Convention for the Suppression of the Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (1970); The Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (1971); The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons (1973);
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