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UN 101

There is no UN definition of terrorism

The UN has no internationally-agreed definition of terrorism.

The definitional impasse has prevented the adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. Even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the UN failed to adopt the Convention, and the deadlock continues to this day.

The prime reason is the standoff with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The Arab Terrorism Convention and the Terrorism Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) define terrorism to exclude armed struggle for liberation and self-determination. This claim purports to exclude blowing up certain civilians from the reach of international law and organizations. It is central to interpreting every proclamation by the states which have ratified these conventions in any UN forum purporting to combat terrorism.

When it comes to agreeing to a comprehensive convention, the OIC is still looking for ways to exclude "the activities of the parties during an armed conflict, including in situations of foreign occupation" from the purview of the Convention. (See page 17, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee established by General Assembly resolution 51/210 of 17 December 1996, Sixth session (28 January-1 February 2002), A/57/37; See page 8, para 4, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Seventh session (31 March-2 April 2003, A/58/37; See page 10, para 2, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Eighth session (28 June-2 July 2004), A/59/37; See page 23, para 5, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Ninth session (28 March-1 April 2005), A/60/37; See page 2, para 6, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Tenth session (27 February-3 March 2006), A/61/37; See page 2, para 6, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Eleventh session (5, 6 and 15 February 2007), A/62/37; See page 2, para 6, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Twelfth session (25 and 26 February and 6 March 2008), A/63/37; See page 2, para 6, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Thirteenth session (29 June to 2 July 2009), A/64/37; See page 2, para 6, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Fourteenth session (12 to 16 April 2010), A/65/37); See page 7, para 11, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Fifteenth session (11 to 15 April 2011), A/66/37; See page 24, para 23, Report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Sixteenth session (8 to 12 April 2013), A/68/37)

On November 7, 2014 the Chairman of the General Assembly Working Group -- that was established to finalize a draft convention on international terrorism -- circulated an oral report in which he named the outstanding issues. He highlighted the OIC demand "to distinguish between acts of terrorism and the legitimate struggle of peoples under foreign occupation and colonial or alien domination in the exercise of their right to self-determination."

Speaking on behalf of the OIC on October 7, 2014, the Egyptian delegation once again was explicit about the standoff: "The group reiterates once again the need to make a distinction between terrorism and the exercise of the legitimate right of peoples to resist foreign occupation." Likewise, Iran, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement said: "Terrorism should not be equated with the legitimate struggle of peoples under colonial or alien domination and foreign occupation, for self-determination and national liberation."

See also: UN non-action to combat terrorism

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