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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

13 September 2005

U.N. summit event spotlights importance of treaties

Democratic nations should help United Nations live up to founding principles

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- One of the main events of the United Nations' 60th Anniversary observance will be the "Focus 2005:  Responding to Global Challenges" treaty event during which more than 75 nations will sign, ratify or accede to any one of the more than 500 treaties deposited with the U.N. secretary-general, especially several treaties on terrorism.

"Ours is an age of unprecedented interconnectedness.  The destinies of people around the world and the threats they face are interwoven," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a letter to the leaders of the 191 U.N. member states inviting them to demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law in international relations by participating in the annual event September 14 to 16.

Wider participation in these treaties would help advance development, security and human rights, says Nicholas Michel, U.N. legal counsel.  Many advances in social, economic and political spheres since the establishment of the United Nations have been achieved on the basis of treaty-based standards.

"In our time, treaty law is the major source of international law.  Treaties are, in fact, the key framework on which most international relations are conducted.  Much of what we take for granted in our day-to-day activities are underpinned by a complex web of treaty-based rules," Michel said.

"A key objective therefore is to encourage participation in multilateral treaties and facilitate the domestic implementation of treaty-based rights and obligations," the legal counsel said at a press conference.

This year the event will highlight 32 treaties which are central to advancing the goals outlined in Annan's report titled In Larger Freedom.  They address a range of global challenges from human rights, refugees, penal matters, terrorism, organized crime and corruption to the law of the sea, disarmament and health.

One of the highlights is the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which opens for signature on September 14.  The first terrorism convention since the terrorist attacks on the United States September 11, 2001, the convention will strengthen the growing global legal counterterrorism framework that now numbers 13 multilateral conventions. (See related fact sheet.)

The convention requires the prosecution and extradition of those dealing with nuclear materials for the purpose of carrying out terrorist acts, facilitates international cooperation, and includes safeguards for dealing with nuclear materials.

"Recognizing the global threat involved, the secretary general has called on all states to become parties to the Nuclear Terrorism Convention without delay," Michel said.

The United States has announced that President Bush will sign the convention on September 14.  Over 63 states have indicated to the United Nations that they will sign the convention during the three-day event.

Also featured are the conventions against terrorist bombings and against the financing of terrorism, both of which have been ratified by about 70 percent of U.N. member states.

Another major event is expected to be the entry into force of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which was adopted in 2003.  Based on the information received by the United Nations, Michel said that the 30 ratifications needed will be reached.

The convention is the first global response to corruption, a universally recognized impediment to development, Michel said.  "Its entry into force will promote and strengthen measures to prevent and combat corruption more efficiently and ensure that extradition, mutual legal assistance, and asset recovery -- an important new aspect -- are possible in corruption-related cases," he said.

Since 1997 three terrorism conventions have been completed: the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. A fourth one, the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, is nearing completion and is expected to be adopted by the end of the year.

The four will form a "very mature legal system" in the fight against terrorism, according to a key delegate to the comprehensive terrorism treaty negotiations.

"From the point of view of international law, they all show a very mature mechanism both to promote law enforcement cooperation and to ensure due process for the persons accused of terrorism, which is a very important element," said the negotiator, who asked for anonymity.

"Do not expect these treaties to make major immediate changes.  They do not create immediate major police actions.  On the other hand, they create something far more important: they create the building blocks to enable a state at the national level and internationally to undertake effective action to prevent terrorism and to close the windows that allow terrorists to avoid prosecution and punishment," the negotiator said.

The negotiator cited the 1997 bombing convention, which is already in force, as one of the most important because it includes a very broad definition of terrorism.

"The assessments of experts is that that convention covers over 90 percent of terrorist acts committed" including suicide bombings and attacks such as those committed against the United States in September 2001, the negotiator said.

Also important is the 2000 terrorist financing convention because it addresses those who support terrorism either directly by giving money to terrorist groups or by providing training and other support, the negotiator said.  "That will cover al-Qaeda and 'charitable organizations' that collect funds both in the United States and Europe from immigrants and send the money back to countries where it is used for terrorist purposes," the negotiator said.

The fourth convention will be like the "cherry on the cake" because it will "round up" the concept of terrorism, building on the previous conventions, the negotiator said.

Most of the convention is ready for adoption, the negotiator said.  The full text is essentially agreed upon.  The only open question, the negotiator said, is "what is the limit of the application of the distinction between terrorism and a freedom fighter exercising his legitimate right to self-determination.

"That, politically, is a very tricky question.  But from a legal point of view it is not that difficult.  There are already various international interpretations of what the thresholds are," the negotiator said.

The definition is "for technical purposes for police and judicial cooperation.  This is not a political slogan but a definition that is going to be useful for judges and police in each and every one of our countries.  It is not to be used as flag or rally for political actions.  This matter is too dangerous for it to become too political," the negotiator said.

Carlos Fernando Diaz Paniagua of Costa Rica, coordinator of the treaty negotiations, said in a report to the U.N. General Assembly August 12 that he is "personally confident that we will be able to achieve a positive result during the 60th session of the General Assembly" by adopting the convention.

The committee drafted a "technical, legal, criminal law instrument that would facilitate police and judicial cooperation in matters of extradition and mutual assistance," not a draft of "a political definition of terrorism," Diaz Paniagua said.  The definition of terrorism in the current draft treaty "uses precise technical, legal language more suitable for a criminal law instrument."

For additional information, see The United Nations at 60.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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