While governments were busy discussing definitions of terrorism, groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) were carrying out “unspeakable” acts, Ban said in an interview this week with The Hindu newspaper and CNN-IBN during a visit to India.
Interviewer Suhasini Haidar pointed to terrorism suffered by people in South Asia, and noted that India had proposed a comprehensive convention on international terrorism.
Haidar did not mention how long ago that happened, but India first put forward the notion of such an international convention back in 1996.
Ever since then, attempts to push the initiative ahead have been plagued by differences among U.N. member-states over how to define terrorism.
The chief sticking point for the past almost two decades has been the insistence by Islamic states that any definition of terrorism must make an exception for the fight against “foreign occupation.”
This is in line with a longstanding Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) doctrine that “armed struggle against foreign occupation” does not constitute terrorism – an exemption designed to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as Pakistani-supported “resistance” to India’s control over part of disputed Kashmir.
In his response to Haidar’s question, Ban hinted at frustration over the failure to settle on a definition and move on.
“Member-states have been discussing this matter, about who are the terrorists and what are the definitions,” he said.
“But at this time, rather than spending time and energy on definitions of this – this ISIL and other groups have been doing unspeakable brutality against humanity – then it should be addressed as such.
“It is important that government authorities take a firm position, domestically and regionally,” Ban said. “And in terms of their domestic justice system, they have to make sure that all these perpetrators should be brought to justice.”
Almost every spring for the past 19 years, an “ad-hoc committee” set up by the U.N. General Assembly has met in New York for a week to wrangle over the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism proposed by India.
While other hurdles have also prevented progress, the occupation exception has been the primary one.
“[T]he need for a clear definition of terrorism, which distinguished terrorism from the legitimate struggle in the exercise of their right to self-determination of peoples under colonial, alien domination or foreign occupation was reaffirmed,” a typical official account of one of the week-long session stated.
Three years after India first submitted its draft proposal, the OIC bloc of Islamic states in 1999 finalized its own convention on combating international terrorism.
That document says that “peoples’ struggle including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”
The OIC has reaffirmed that position at numerous conferences and meetings since then.