"While we certainly need vigilance to prevent acts of
terrorism, and firmness in condemning and punishing them, it will
be self-defeating if we sacrifice other key priorities-such as
human rights-in the process." - Kofi Annan, January
By its very nature, terrorism is an assault on the fundamental
principles of law, order, human rights, and peaceful settlement of
disputes upon which the United Nations is established. Countering
terrorism, therefore, is in the interest not only of States and
intergovernmental institutions but also of local, national, and
global civil society. - Kofi Annan, October 4,
 As has been noted elsewhere, the
United Nations reacted swiftly to the attacks of September 11, 2001
in the United States. The Security Council established a
Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) to monitor compliance with
counter-terrorism measures, particularly at the level of Member
States. However, what is perhaps less well known are some of the
UN's other follow-up efforts to take up the problem of terrorism
without resorting to the use of force.
 Many of these measures were reviewed by a Policy Working
Group on the United Nations and Terrorism which the
Secretary-General established in October 2001. The Group's mandate
was "to identify the longer-term implications and broad policy
dimensions of terrorism for the United Nations and to formulate
recommendations on the steps that the United Nations system might
take to address the issue." Its
report was issued on August 1, 2002.
 While there were many significant elements in the report, a
number of these are particularly noteworthy with regard to the
nature of terrorism and the importance of dissuasion and denial as
tasks within a strategy to deal with terrorism.
 The Group asserted that "Terrorism is, in most cases,
essentially a political act. It is meant to inflict dramatic and
deadly injury on civilians and to create an atmosphere of fear,
generally for a political or ideological (whether secular or
 Terrorism is a criminal act, but it is more than mere
criminality. To overcome the problem of terrorism it is necessary
to understand its political nature as well as its basic criminality
and psychology." They also noted that
governments also sometimes use terror to control their populations
and that "labelling opponents or adversaries as terrorists offers a
time-tested technique to de-legitimize and demonize them."
 Finding terrorism a complex matter, the Group also called
for "intellectual and moral clarity" regarding attacks on
civilians, asserting that they deserve "universal condemnation" and
that the struggle against terrorism requires a plan of
 Bearing in mind that "the lack of hope for justice provides
breeding grounds for terrorism," the Group called for action
through the United Nations as an antidote.
 "Where United Nations efforts to reduce lawlessness and
despair in the world succeed, terrorism will find no
nourishment…. Through its conventions, resolutions,
statements and actions, the Organization can help to dissuade
disaffected groups from choosing the terrorist path and those who
aid, abet or excuse terrorist acts from maintaining those ties or
sympathies. The universal character, global reach and international
legitimacy of the United Nations constitute important assets upon
which it can draw in this effort."
 They also said that the UN has various means at its disposal
to "deny terrorists the tools of their trade-finance, secrecy, arms
and shelter…." However, they note that these measures demand
"the sustained and specific cooperation of a variety of national,
regional and global agencies and arrangements."
 The Group also stressed that the UN "cannot and must not
retreat from the other pressing issues on its wide agenda," such as
poverty, HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation, the urgency of
which predate September 11, 2001.
 The Group identified the promotion and adoption of
international legal instruments as "the most effective and
legitimate response" to the threat to international peace and
security posed by international terrorism. They also noted the
connections between terrorism and transnational organized crime,
e.g., arms and drug trafficking and money laundering, and called
for better coordination of efforts to address the two.
 Another area which the Group identified as essential to the
task of dissuasion was human rights:
The protection and promotion of human rights under the rule of
law is essential in the prevention of terrorism. First, terrorism
often thrives in environments in which human rights are violated.
Terrorists may exploit human rights violations to gain support for
their cause. Second, it must be understood clearly that terrorism
itself is a violation of human rights. Terrorist acts that take
life violate the right to life set forth in article 6 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Third, it
must also be understood that international law requires observance
of basic human rights standards in the struggle against terrorism.
The struggle against international terrorism will be further
enhanced if the most serious crimes committed by terrorists are
tried before the International Criminal Court and prosecuted under
its Statute (provided that the relevant national court cannot or
will not prosecute). Since the Statute covers the category of
crimes against humanity, which includes murder and extermination
committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on any
civilian population, certain terrorist acts might therefore be
tried under the Statute.
 They also concluded that "The struggle against terrorism
should be carried out in keeping with international human rights
 The Group noted the ground-breaking aspects of Security
Council resolution 1373 which had "a focus on ensuring that any
person who participates in the financing, planning, preparation or
perpetration of terrorist acts, or who supports terrorist acts, is
brought to justice, and that such acts are established as serious
criminal offences in domestic law and regulation with punishments
that duly reflect their seriousness."
 They also noted that the existence of various kinds of
weapons-conventional as well as nuclear, chemical and
biological-may lead terrorists to seek to acquire and use them.
However, they suggested that the use of less sophisticated weapons,
such as anthrax or a dirty bomb (radioactive material dispersal by
a conventional weapon), was more likely than the actual detonation
of a nuclear weapon or a larger scale chemical or biological
weapons attack. They pointed to the ongoing use of small arms,
light weapons and explosives as the easier and cheaper means that
terrorists would continue to employ. In that regard, they
identified various UN programs and agreements to curb their
 In the area of prevention, the Group emphasized several
aspects of the Secretary-General's recent report on the prevention
of armed conflict as key to "narrowing the space in which
terrorists operate." Among these are activities to alleviate crises
and prevent armed conflict from developing or expanding and
longer-term measures to remove the causes of conflict. With respect
to the latter, they noted the Secretary-General's observation that
development assistance can:
'… facilitate the creation of opportunities and the
political, economic and social spaces within which indigenous
actors can identify, develop and use the resources necessary to
build a peaceful, equitable and just society.' If such efforts
assist societies to resolve conflict peacefully within the rule of
law, grievances that might have been expressed through terrorist
acts are more likely to be addressed through political, legal and
social means. In addition, effective structural prevention measures
would strengthen the capacities of States to avoid the type of
protracted armed conflict that weakened Afghanistan and enabled the
rise within its territory of transnational terrorist
 The Group noted the importance of various regional and
other multilateral efforts to address terrorism, such as the work
of Interpol in intelligence gathering and sharing as well as the
Financial Action Task Force on Money-laundering, an
intergovernmental organization initiated by the Group of Seven
industrialized countries, which has proposed standards against
terrorist financing and money laundering.
 In their recommendations the Group called for the
ratification and implementation of counter-terrorism conventions as
well as the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
Concerning human rights they recommended that:
All relevant parts of the United Nations system should emphasize
that key human rights must always be protected and may never be
derogated from. The independence of the judiciary and the existence
of legal remedies are essential elements for the protection of
fundamental human rights in all situations involving
 They called on all elements of the UN system to:
deliver a consistent, clear, principled message when addressing
the issue of terrorism, as follows:
(a) The targeting of unarmed civilians is wrong in all
(b) Governments must ensure that there are avenues to enable
citizens to express concerns and grievances;
(c) Military force should be used only in strict adherence with
the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. Such
use of force must be exercised in accordance with the international
laws of war. The targeting of civilians and the disproportionate
use of force beyond legitimate military objectives violate
international humanitarian law;
(d) Security cannot be achieved by sacrificing human
 The UN General Assembly has begun consideration of a
resolution on human rights and countering terrorism. The report of
the Policy Working Group provides a helpful set of international
norms and standards against which to measure such proposals. The
report also offers an ethical basis for citizens to evaluate
further non-violent actions by nation states and the international
community to address terrorism.
© November 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 2, Issue 11
 See "Combating Terrorism", Damaris
Frehrking, Love Indeed, Spring 2002, LOWC insert.
 A/57/273-S/2002/875, para. 2. The
entire report is available on the South Asia Terrorism
 Ibid, para. 13.
 Ibid, para. 16.
 Ibid, para. 26.
 Ibid, para. 40.
 Ibid, Recommendation 4.
 Ibid, Recommendation 7.