India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington D.C. this week to meet with President Obama. Buried in their joint statement, the two leaders reiterated their support for an important-sounding treaty that I, nonetheless, had never heard of:
27) The leaders affirmed their support for a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that advances and strengthens the framework for global cooperation and reinforces that no cause or grievance justifies terrorism.
The CCIT (draft text here) was proposed by India in 1996. In a nice illustration of just how slow the process of treaty making can take in the U.N. system, the treaty has languished in the 20 years since in an “Ad Hoc Committee” and then in a “working group of the Sixth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly.” Apparently, it continues to languish there due to disagreements over the application of its definition of terrorism to military forces and its application to “national liberation forces” (a 2014 public discussion is posted here). Here is the definition in the draft text.
1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of the present Convention if that person, by any means, unlawfully and intentionally, causes:
(a) Death or serious bodily injury to any person; or
(b) Serious damage to public or private property, including a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system, an infrastructure facility or to the environment; or
(c) Damage to property, places, facilities or systems referred to in paragraph 1 (b) of the present article resulting or likely to result in major economic loss; when the purpose of the conduct, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a Government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act.
This is a pretty bland and uncontroversial definition. The “working group” is supposed to be close to finalizing the text, but they have been “finalizing” since 2013. It sounds like the treaty’s definition of terrorism needs an exemption for military forces (that seems doable) and an exemption for “liberation movements resisting foreign occupation” (that seems not so doable).
I suppose it would be a big deal if a CCIT was adopted since it would commit the world to a broad single definition of terrorism. Then again, there are already at least 19 terrorism-related conventions, and it is hard to tell how much of a difference they make. The problem doesn’t seem to be a failure to sign international anti-terrorism treaties, but compliance with them.
On the other hand, there does seem to be value in pushing this position: “no cause or grievance justifies terrorism.” This is a view that not only the U.S. and India, but also China, Russia, and the EU can get behind. It will be interesting to see if this coalition can overcome the opposition of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) states who seem worried only about protecting the rights of the Palestinians to “resist” the Israeli occupation. India seems gung-ho about this treaty, so it will be interesting to see if they can push it along (with U.S. help).