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Homeland Security


Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

12 April 2005

Nicolas Michel, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, this afternoon stressed the importance of the General Assembly’s adoption, tomorrow, of the draft International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Briefing correspondents at UN Headquarters, he said the draft, contained in document A/59/766, had been adopted by the Ad Hoc Committee on International Terrorism (formally known as the Ad Hoc Committee established by General Assembly resolution 51/210 of 17 December 1996) on 1 April. The Secretary-General had urged the adoption of the Convention in a speech as “A Global Strategy for Fighting Terrorism”, delivered on 10 March in Madrid, Spain, as well in his report “In Larger Freedom” and, most recently, in his address to the meeting of the League of Arab States in Algiers, Algeria.

The adoption of the Convention would be an important event and a breakthrough after more than seven years of negotiations, the Legal Counsel said. It was a decisive move in a field where there had been a strong perception of a deadlock. The subject of the Convention was highly sensitive: the prevention of nuclear material being used for terrorist purposes, one of the deadliest forms of terrorism.

Its adoption would be an improvement of the existing anti-terrorism legal framework, as it would be the thirteenth sectoral convention on the fight against terrorism, he said. As a result, most of the possible terrorist acts would be covered by the legal instruments in existence. The adoption would demonstrate that the ordinary law-making process had worked through the Assembly, its Sixth (Legal) Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee. The Convention would be opened for signature on 14 September, as one of the highlights of the 2005 summit. It would need 22 ratifications to go into effect.

Answering a correspondent’s question, Mr. Michel said he was not aware of any opposition to adoption of the Convention during tomorrow’s Assembly meeting. The negotiations, however, had been long and protracted.

To a question about the Convention’s main provisions and what sanctions it contained for those who tried to carry out acts of nuclear terrorism, he said the Convention stated very clearly what acts were forbidden. States parties were obliged to criminalize those acts and adapt, if necessary, their criminal codes in order to impose sanctions upon those who violated its provisions. The kind of punishment was not detailed in the Convention, but should be in correspondence with the seriousness of the breach. The Convention also foresaw stronger cooperation between States regarding intelligence-sharing and mutual legal assistance.

Asked whether the Assembly, by adopting the Convention, was demonstrating that it was taking its role back from the Security Council, he replied that, in his opinion, the delegations that had participated in the negotiations had been aware of the role the Council had played in recent years -- for instance, through its resolution 1373 (2001) on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts -- and wanted to show that the Assembly could perform. That had helped to bring the Convention to its conclusion.

Mr. Michel declined to answer a question on what he understood by the phrase “other rules of international law” in the following clause: “Activities undertaken by the military forces of a State in exercise of their official duties, insomuch as they are governed by other rules of international law, are not governed by this Convention” (Article 4, paragraph 2). That matter had been highly sensitive during negotiations, and because he wanted to give all details with history, he invited anybody interested in that issue to discuss it with colleagues who had directly participated in the negotiations.

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