Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the United Nations that terrorism needs to be defined. While this is a much needed step, the question is, "can terrorism be defined?" The United Nations had stated on October 7, 2005 by its sixth committee that it has not been able to define terrorism.
Some of the reasons why terrorism cannot be defined is because it could lead to linking it with a particular religion or faith.
V Balachandran, the former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, and also member of the High Level Committee which enquired into the police performance during 26/11 Mumbai says that even in India we have not been able to clearly define terrorism.
It is not easy he points out in this conversation with OneIndia.
Why can't terrorism be defined?
Let us begin with the killing of Hadeel al-Hashlamun, a 19-year-old girl at Hebron checkpost on September 22, 2015. The Palestinians termed it as Israel sponsored terrorism. However Israel termed it as an act of self-defence, points out Balachandran.
When the UN was known as the League of Nations, following the 1934 assassination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia in Marseilles by Croatian and Macedonian separatists, France proposed that the League should adopt a comprehensive convention on terrorism. This was done on November 16, 1937.
However, it restricted "terrorism" only to anti-State acts by defining it as "criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public." The league went on to ask its members to pass national laws.
Balachandran also says that in the 1970s, Libyan ruler Muammar el- Qaddafi opened camps to help what he called freedom struggles by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Basque separatists, Italian Red Brigades and Palestinian groups. Other powers like USA called it terrorism.
That, however, did not prevent the US and others from organising an uprising in Libya from 2011 through non-state actors to remove Qaddafi. Paul Pillar, former CIA analyst has said that this had only "worsened chaos" in the region.
Drawing up of legal instruments
Balachandran says that these are some of the reasons why the UN has not been able to define terrorism. However it drew up 14 legal instruments in which it described what constituted individual acts of terrorism. The 1963 Tokyo convention on in flight safety and the convention against hijacking in 1970 were drawn up.
In 2010, an additional protocol (Beijing protocol) was added to this convention. In 1971, another convention was passed to reinforce air travel security on the recommendation of the Montreal based International Civil Aviation Organization.
In the same year, diplomats were protected under a special convention. This was necessitated by a spate of attacks on the diplomatic missions of USA, UK, Israel and Cuba during 1971-1972. In 1979, hostage taking was prohibited.
Between 1980 and 2005, there were 8 more legal instruments that were drawn up for the safety of nuclear material, prevention of airport violence, safety of maritime navigation and fixed platforms (oil drills), prevention of plastic explosives, terrorist bombings and terrorist financing.
Post 9/11, the Security Council passed Resolution No: 1373 on September 28, 2001 calling upon all members to implement the above 14 legal instruments. The UN Drug Control & Crime Prevention Secretariat was given the nodal role in monitoring compliance.
The comprehensive convention of international terrorism
Since 2000, the UN Ad Hoc Committee has been examining a draft paper on "Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism" - including a common definition. T
he latest report on the UN web is of 2011. The progress is unsatisfactory. Members of various political hues are still divided over what could be the exact definition of terrorism points out Balachandran and adds that it would be a miracle if we have a global definition.