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The Sixth Committee Talks Terrorism

10 Oct

The Sixth Committee (hereinafter 6C) of the General Assembly opened this week with measures to eliminate international terrorism as the first agenda item. The general discussion focused on a wide-range of issues, including support for the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism and convening a high-level conference under UN auspices. Member states noted the significance of international law, especially international humanitarian law (IHL), international refugee law (IRL) and international human rights law (IHRL) in combating terrorism. In this regard, member states emphasized that terrorism is not affiliated with any particular race, ethnic group or religion, and a distinction should be made between terrorism and the legitimate struggle for people’s self-determination.

In addition, the importance of strong rule of law mechanisms was recognized as well as more attention on the financing of terrorism and ransom payments. References were also made to arms proliferation including support for the Arms Trade Treaty.  Moreover, welcomed attention was given not only to relevant General Assembly Resolutions, but to the Security Council and the sanctions committees, especially regarding the listing/de-listing process. Finally, Liechtenstein noted in its statement the complementarity between the work of the Security Council, General Assembly, the Secretariat and the contributions of the 6C therein. Given the forthcoming counterterrorism discussion in the GA plenary, Liechtenstein suggested that the 6C consider the terrorism agenda item on a biannual basis so as not to overlap with the GA’s agenda.

Procedurally, one of the main items considered in this agenda was the adoption of a working group, which ultimately failed to be adopted.

The General Assembly had recommended the creation of a working group in 2013 to both facilitate the drafting of a convention and carry on discussions about the high level conference.[i] The working group was also recommended by the ad hoc committee in its report to the 6C.[ii] The ad hoc committee was created in 1996 to “elaborate an international convention for the suppression of terrorist bombings” and nuclear terrorism; this would build on existing instruments and develop “a comprehensive legal framework of conventions dealing with international terrorism.”[iii] In 2000, the Committee’s mandate on the convention was extended and the conference was added as an agenda item “to formulate a joint organized response of the international community to terrorism.”[iv] In 2012, A/RES/67/99 extended the Committee’s mandate with a report due to the 68th session.[v]

The report provides draft text for the preamble and articles 1, 2, and 4-27, which address jurisdiction issues, conflict of laws, extradition, adopting relevant domestic legislation, etc.  Speaking as Vice Chair of the ad hoc committee, Guatemala noted that while the committee provided an opportunity to engage in discussions, they were not able to reach a conclusion. More political will is necessary to address the challenges. In its statement, South Africa raised concerns about continuing to hold meetings especially in instances when consensus has not been reached; nevertheless South Africa hopes that consensus will be facilitated before next year.

From the report, it appears that one of the outstanding issues surrounds the scope of the convention, including the definition of terrorism, the actions of the state military, and actions of “armed forces” vs. that of “parties,” etc.[vi] Regarding the conference, the objective is to increase political support for negotiation of the convention.[vii] While there doesn’t seem to be much opposition to the conference per se, there appears to be a preference among delegations to hold it after negotiations are completed.[viii]

Overall, most welcomed are the references to human rights especially since the right to self-determination is provided for in appropriate human rights instruments including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, respectively. References to the ATT are of course welcomed, but it is important to also give attention to complementary instruments like the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms, which provides for commitments to eradicate, prevent and combat the illicit flow of small arms. Procedurally, it remains to be seen how this agenda item will develop and to what extent there will be more coordination and collaboration with the GA plenary.

–          Melina Lito, Legal Adviser on UN Affairs


[i] A/RES/67/99, OP.24.

[ii] A/68/37, para. 12.

[iii] A/RES/51/210, OP.9.

[iv] A/RES/54/110, OP. 12.

[v] A/RES/67/99, OP. 25 and 29.

[vi] A/68/37, para. 23-29.

[vii] A/68/37, para. 37.

[viii] A/68/37, para. 39.

Human Security on the National Level – A shift from foreign to domestic policy

10 Oct

Security and insecurity are two very subjective concepts. What may feel unsafe for one person may very well be a normal circumstance for another. Personally, being raised in a safe neighborhood in Rotterdam – the Netherlands, I was never confronted with any real danger. So to be honest, feeling safe and secure is something I grew up with. I know that, sadly, not everyone has the luxury of having a safe home and presence of basic needs. Even though it seems logical, for you and me, to think of security as being directed towards human beings, for centuries security on the international level revolved around states instead of people. The common assumption was that having secure borders was sufficient for people to feel safe. We all know now that, unfortunately, this is not always the case. To deal with the concept of security of citizens, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) released a Human Development Report (HDR) in 1994 that introduced a new concept of security: human security. This concept refers to the security of people rather than security of territories, with development rather than with arms. On Wednesday, 2 October 2013, a panel discussion on applying the human security approach at the national level was co-hosted by the Human Security Network and the Permanent Mission of Japan, in partnership with the Human Security Unit.

The concept of human security can mean different things to different people. A survey done in 20120 on human security in Benin by panelist Mr. Janvier Alofa (lead drafter of the National Human Development Report in Benin) resulted in different perspectives of human security and different perspectives on threats. Mr. Alofa explained that human security consists of seven interconnected components: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political. A lack of security in any of these components can pose a threat to someone’s safety. In the case of Benin, if we look at the personal component, human security is endangered by trafficking in children, taxi accidents, organized crime and acts of violence (rape and domestic violence). Examples of the effects of the lack of human security can be found in ‘Lessons from the field – Applying the  Human Security Approach through the UN Trust Fund for Human Security’ released by the Human Security Unit. In the case of Lesotho, were an estimated 80 per cent of the population depends on the agriculture for their livelihoods, we can see that the adverse effects of climate change (environmental insecurity) on agriculture have hindered Lesotho’s development process. Health insecurity is evident in Peru. In Apurímac and Ayacucho in the Andrean region close to half of the populations lives in extreme poverty. As a result of this, rates of infant and maternal mortality, chronic malnutrition and illiteracy are very high.

Because human security consists of seven different components, as explained by Mr. Alofa, it encompasses all essential elements of society. The other two panelists, Dr. Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh (leader of the Specialization on Human Security at the Masters of Public Affairs at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris) and Dr. Oscar A. Gómez (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Postdoctoral Fellow at the Doshisha University’s Graduate School of Global Studies), agree with this view and believe that human security is relevant to each framework because (national) security, development and human rights are all interlinked.

The three panelists underlined the importance of the concept of human security for the security of both states and their people. Dr. Tadjbakhsh noted the degree to which state security depends on the security of their populations. As a consequence of this focus shift from state security to human security, the policy focus of security is shifting from foreign to domestic policy. This shift, in my opinion, represents an important step towards the protection of basic human rights. If a state believes that its security depends directly on the security of its people, that state will likely put more effort into fulfilling its obligations to its domestic constituents. Dr. Gómez emphasized the fact that the state remains primarily responsible for human security. To provide this human security the state should learn from national experiences: historical processes should be analyzed and comparisons should be made to build knowledge about a wide range of security concerns. In this instance, both objective and subjective components of insecurity should be addressed and mismatches of threat perception should be identified.

I found the information provided during the panel discussion very interesting and possibly groundbreaking. The shift from state security/foreign policy to human security/domestic policy and the view that the state security depends on the safety of its people seems a big step forward in promoting the protection of people within a state. The difficulty, I believe, will be in the actual implementation of human security within the policies of states. States will have to alter their concept of security; and indicators to monitor and follow up on human security violations will need to be developed. Only if this is done successfully can the concept make a real difference and can everyone experience the security they deserve.

Marianne Rijke, Disarmament Fellow