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IS IT TIME FOR AN INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION ON ‘TERRORISM’?

Terrorism is a tricky term to define. Governments from Asia to the Americas have yet again been unable to form consensus over what exactly the term signifies. Just as the history regarding terrorism did not end on 26/11 Mumbai attacks, it did not begin on 9/11. Only due to the narrow geopolitical differences, the world has not been able to come to a conclusion as to what the word means.
The Comprehensive Convention on International terrorism (CCIT) was proposed as a weapon against fighting global terrorism in the year 1996 by India. Even after 22 years, nations all over the globe have failed at developing a uniform norm for prosecution or extradition of the terrorists. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in his visits to international platforms like the G-20 summit; have been very vocal about the need to counter terrorism by the help of a uniform norm against it by putting aside distinctions on the basis of nations and individuals.

Why is it being opposed?

Even after the presence of 14 conventions against terrorism; India is rooting for the CCIT because the convention aims at putting a ban on all international terrorist groups regardless of their country of operation. Also, it will cut off the financial assistance provided to them, putting a halt to funds and safe havens. Unfortunately, the United Nations General Assembly has yet not adopted the convention due to opposition from three major blocs, namely the United States, the Latin American Countries and the Organisation of Islamic Countries. Now, this hostility had been problematic for different reasons. The US is opposing this move because the definition of terrorists includes within its ambit the military forces also, which is detrimental to its forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly, the OIC countries are concerned about the effect of the convention on the countries like Pakistan and Palestine. Groups such as the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) and Hamas that call themselves freedom fighters for the Palestinian’s cause are considered terrorists by the Israel. This is evident of the saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But ultimately, a terrorist is not a freedom fighter and a terrorist is not a guerrilla.
In today’s date, there is no generic convention on terrorism; although three separate protocols have come into existence for dealing with this menace; namely  International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. Being adopted in the years 1997, 1999 and 2005 respectively, they aim to combat what the earlier conventions have failed to achieve. But the aforementioned conventions cover a very limited aspect of the whole concept of terrorism. In the present scenario that the world is facing while countering terrorism, it is relatively easy as compared to earlier times; to classify terrorist acts and terrorist organisations. As far as the term terrorism is concerned, most people still define the term as was defined by Schmid and Jongman’s book Political Terrorism where he states that terrorism is anxiety inspiring method of continuous violent actions which aim at targets of opportunity and, symbolic and representative targets. But this definition is an academic one that would be problematic while defining terrorism in practical terms. Looking at the threat that terrorism is today, strict action is the need of the hour that requires piecemeal reforms in order to curb this threat.
Weapons used by the terrorists are not extraordinary, but they are used extraordinarily. This is evident of the fact that a strong domestic regime is needed as far as regulating these activities are concerned. This is what the convention also shall be discharging in order to keeping a tab on what the citizen of the respective state is up to.
It could be started with the universally despised organisations that are considered to be human rights violators by each and every part of the globe. Operational plans are required to chalk out these terminologies and also the acts of terrorism that together form a coherent network to facilitate such acts. One such attempt was taken after the Munich Olympic massacre in the 1972; but it ultimately failed due to unwillingness of certain parts of the world on labelling them as terrorists. To counter this issue, it has to be looked into holistically; not only the act but the state agencies and the financers who are assisting them in committing such acts shall be considered to be acts of terrorism. These acts are disastrous and cause great harm to not one nation but all should be strongly condoned by governments all over. Giving them the status of liberation forces or freedom fighters while they are employing violence as a means to achieve their cause shall be criticised vehemently.

The Way Ahead

Having a conflict over the definition of the term itself signifies the differences the world has on this agenda. First and foremost, the governments need to understand that there is no good and bad terrorism. Osama Bin Laden, the founder of terrorist organisation al-Qaeda; stated that, “terrorism can be commendable and it can be reprehensible.” Committing violence against oppressors and thieves can never be a justified and commendable act. The world today is fighting a menace that is increasing its pangs in each and every corner of this globe, while the governments in the parallel are struggling to form a consensus on what actually the term means. The convention shall surely take its time to come into force, what is more important is to keep pushing the idea of non-tolerance of violence for achieving the aims of certain organisations. Also, what needs to be kept in mind is that the definition should not be crisis centred; also it should not be exploited for propagating the political objectives of any organisation.
There is still a long way to go before the humankind gifts itself an international convention on international terrorism. It definitely is time for governments and organisations to unite to cooperate with each other in identifying and agreeing to the common characteristics that terrorist organisations possess. To conclude, an organisation employing violence to achieve its aims is a terrorist group regardless of its goals it is planning to achieve. “A terrorist is a terrorist, no matter whether or not you like the goal s/he is trying to achieve, no matter whether or not you like the government s/he is trying to change”.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vasundhara Singh is currently pursuing LL.M. from the West Bengal National University Juridical Sciences, Kolkata specializing in International and Comparative Law. She completed her B.A. LL.B. (Hons) from the University of Lucknow in 2018.
Picture Credit: 123rf

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