Time worn clichés is what one often gets to hear after every major terror attack. The statements by world leaders post the Paris attacks were no different and there were calls for global cooperation, better coordination, defining terrorism, starving terrorists of finances etc. Haven't we heard all of this in the past?
The fact of the matter is that since the year 1937 the League of Nations, the former avatar of the United Nations has been trying to evolve comprehensive conventions on terrorism.
Enough of time worn clichés
V Balachandran, former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat says that there is no magical solution to fight terrorism. Quoting Indian film maker Pan Nalin, Balachandran says that an arms dealer had once said that there were 15 million firearms floating in the world, one for every 12 people.
He said that, sadly, discussions at every international security forum are to "equip the remaining 11," thus setting the stage for a scary world.
This was exactly what the London based-NGO, International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), had been advocating for a long time through their campaigns against gun violence.
They have also been lobbying with the UN to codify stricter gun control laws. They sought mandatory steps by arms-producing countries towards laying down scientific methods to reduce the probability of diversion of arms and ammunition to illicit markets, developing mandatory standardisation of in-erasable markings on all weapons, keeping strict records of sales and details of transit points and preventing such diversions from legitimate arms sales.
The UN could finally pass the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty, a landmark legislation, which has come into force from December 2014. However, its implementation is questioned as several arms-producing countries like China, Russia and India had abstained on some metaphysical reasons like national sovereignty.
Balachandran says, meanwhile, huge surplus of weapons are circulating in the illegal market. Stev Coll estimates that 65,000 tonnes per year were supplied to the Afghan Mujahideen. Small Arms Survey says that 85,000 Cambodian weapons were surplus.
To this we should add the weapons supplied by the Western and Arab states to non-state actors in Syria and Libya during the Arab Spring and also the US-Iraqi arms dump looted by ISIS from Mosul in June 2014.
Why terrorism cannot be defined
Balachandran says, 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.
The US notified Libya as a sponsor of terrorism. Sanctions were imposed. However, Libya was removed from that list when Qaddafi stopped aiding these "freedom fighters". 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.