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Convention on Terrorism needs to come into effect soon

Eighteen years after it was mooted the Convention on Terrorism still remains in draft, as the UN cannot find a compromise definition of the very word terrorism. The UN has said that 'it would not be beneficial to proceed hastily in the negotiations'.

columns Updated: Oct 31, 2014 22:11 IST

1996 was a year that was curiously critical globally in many ways. In India, the BJP emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha for the first time, leading to a 13-day Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. It was also the year that Dolly the sheep was cloned, the first DVDs became available, and, to balance out the advance in technology, the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan and granted Osama bin Laden their version of a green card.

1996 was also the year that the UN formed an ad hoc committee on measures to eliminate international terrorism, and to frame a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Ad hocism is related to adapting to immediate requirements. Now, 18 years later, enough time in human years for a newborn to be eligible to vote, that Convention still remains in draft, as the UN cannot find a compromise definition of the very word terrorism. A couple of years ago, the UN noted on this particular issue that “it would not be beneficial to proceed hastily in the negotiations”. That single line makes just as much sense as Taylor Swift recently topping the Canadian iTunes charts with eight seconds of mistakenly released static.

In October 2005 officials at the Permanent Mission of India to the UN pointed to a phrase India considered crucial — “criminal acts within the scope of this Convention are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature.”

Also, by then there were already over a dozen piecemeal conventions and protocols governing terrorism, none that brought unity to the concept. Nine years later, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was recently lamenting that the Convention hadn’t yet been conceived.

Progress on the Convention is at the UN speed that would make a snail look as snappy as Usain Bolt. Somewhat ironically described as Working Methods, we are told: “The pattern of meetings of the Ad hoc Committee has been such that it has held one session per year over a one or two week period, usually early in the year. The work is then continued in the framework of a Working Group of the Sixth Committee held later in the year during the regular session of the General Assembly. The Ad hoc Committee did not meet in 2012 and will not meet in 2014. The working Group was not convened in 2013.” This isn’t slow and steady but sloth and statis. Somewhat fittingly, accessing the deliberations of that Committee through the Official Documents Section of the UN returns an error: “There is an end user problem.”

The catch that has held up progress is in one Article, which exempts armed forces. A group of four nations, including Pakistan, wants that text altered to “The activities of the parties during an armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation, as those terms are understood under international humanitarian law, which are governed by that law, are not governed by this Convention.” The objective behind the obduracy should occur to you quicker than you can say Kashmiri separatist.

Another source of obfuscation guised as an objection is Israel-centric — seeking to include State terrorism. That’s already covered by the Geneva Convention. So, in trying to reinvent the wheel, they keep going around in circles.

Getting such a Convention in place acts as an overarching deterrent to terrorism and to nations that play the perverted good terrorist/bad terrorist cards. As the Islamic State brings daily savagery to social media, Boko Haram enslaves more girls, Bangladesh-bound bombs burgeon in Burdwan, and terror attacks are becoming as routine in Canada as maple syrup and endless winter, you may think such a Convention would be hammered out and terrorism sponsors nailed. Not quite. Since what the UN had to offer, as recently as 2012, was this line that reads like a sample from a fake Deepak Chopra quote generator: “The Ad Hoc Committee works on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs.
The views expressed by the author are personal.