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.


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