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Terrorism international framework: International terrorism-related conventions


Civil Aviation

There are seven international legal instruments designed to suppress and protect against offences and unlawful acts related to aircraft and international civil aviation (1963 Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft; 1970 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft; 1971 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation; 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation; 2010 Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation; 2010 Protocol Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft; 2014 Protocol to Amend the Convention on Offences and Certain Acts Committed on Board Aircraft). These treaties address aviation-related offences such as hijacking, planting of explosive devices and the use of aircraft to cause death or injury and outline the minimum requirements for preventing unlawful acts committed on board aircraft.


Protection of Staff

The 1973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents defines an internationally protected person (diplomats, heads of State, representatives of state or international organizations) and sets out state requirements to criminalize and make punishable the direct or complicit act or threat of intentional murder, kidnapping, or attack on an internationally protected person, their family, their accommodation or means of transport.


Taking of Hostages

The 1979 International Convention against the Taking of Hostages expressly asserts that the taking of hostages is a manifestation of international terrorism. It sets out the minimum state requirements for punishing or extraditing hostage-takers, and defines a hostage taker as "any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure or to continue to detain another person in order to compel a third party, namely, a State, an international intergovernmental organization, a natural or juridical person, or group of persons, to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage" (article 1(1)). This treaty is particularly useful as an instrument to define and address acts of terrorism. The definition of hostage-taking outlined in this treaty can be applied to the terrorism - organized crime nexus; hostage-taking is a manifestation of international terrorism and is also a form of criminal activity that may be intended to make a profit and/or force political change.


Nuclear Material

The 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and accompanying 2005 amendments, criminalizes the unlawful possession, use, transfer, theft, or threats of use of nuclear material to cause serious injury or property damage, as well as makes it legally binding for States Parties to protect nuclear facilities and materials for domestic use. The 2005 amendment specifically addresses the need to expand cooperation between and amongst States to rapidly locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material. This treaty may be applicable in instances where terrorist and/or organized criminal groups may be interested in stealing and selling or trading nuclear material.


Maritime Threats

The international instruments regarding maritime navigation make it an offence for a person to unlawfully and intentionally seize or exercise control over a ship or fixed platform located on the continental shelf ("an artificial island or structure permanently attached to the sea-bed for the purpose of exploration or exploitation of resources or for other economic resources" (article 1(3)). Of these treaties, the 2005 Protocol to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation most directly draws a relationship between maritime navigation and acts of terrorism. The Protocol criminalizes the use of ships as a means of enacting terrorism; the transport of materials known to cause, or threat to cause, death or serious injury as an act of terrorism; and the transport of persons who have committed acts of terrorism. The maritime navigation treaties can be applied across a wide range of terrorist-organized crime activities, including hostage-taking, human and drug trafficking by ship; where a terrorist group raises funds through criminal activities such as these to carry out terrorist acts.


Explosive Materials

The 1991 Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection is designed to control and limit the use of unmarked and undetectable plastic explosives. States Parties are required to take measures that would, inter alia, prohibit and prevent the manufacture of unmarked plastic explosives and ensure that all stocks of unmarked explosives not held by the military or police be destroyed, consumed, or made ineffective within three years. One of the objectives of this treaty is to address terrorist use of these explosive materials to target aircraft and other means of transportation, and other targets. The treaty can be applied in situations where terrorist or organized criminal actors gain possession of such explosives.


Terrorist Bombings

Building on the Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism (1994), the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings requires that States parties adopt national legislation that criminalizes:

[The] intentional delivery, placement, discharge, or detonation (of) an explosive or other lethal device in, into or against a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility: (a) with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or (b) with the intent to cause extensive destruction of such a place, facility or system, where such destruction results in or is likely to result in major economic loss (article 2).

The Convention does not apply in instances where the offence is committed in a single State, the alleged offender and victims are nationals of the State and the alleged offender is found in the territory of the State, where no other States can claim jurisdiction over the offence. The usefulness of this treaty for purposes of criminalizing and punishing certain acts of terrorism is clear, but the particular benefit of the treaty is the requirement it places on States to enact domestic legislation and policy to (i) extradite alleged offenders, and (ii) adopt domestic legislation to ensure that criminal acts intended to provoke a state of terror "are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature and are punished by penalties consistent with their grave nature" (article 5).


Financing of Terrorism

The 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism has far-reaching implications for investigating and punishing criminal financial activities used to fund acts of terrorism. Within the framework of this Convention, a person commits a criminal offence if:

[B]y any means, directly or indirectly, unlawfully and wilfully, provide or collect funds with the intention that they should be used or in the knowledge that they are to be used, in full or in part, in order to carry out: […]

(b) Any other act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, 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.

Similar to the above Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, this treaty requires that States parties adopt appropriate legislation to ensure that those criminal acts outlined in the Convention are not justified by political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, or religious considerations.

While this treaty enables a strategic approach for tracking terrorist funding, studies on the crime-terrorism nexus warn against an overemphasis on terrorist financing as a means to track and detect potential terrorists/terrorist groups (Reitano & Clarke, 2017). This is because such a focus obfuscates other potential motivations and indicators for terrorist membership or activity, such as socioeconomic inequalities, criminal background and assimilation challenges.


Nuclear Terrorism

The 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism covers threats and attempts to commit or participate in crimes as an accomplice, including possession of radioactive material or devices intended to cause death, serious injury, or damage to property. It requires that States extradite or prosecute offenders and encourages States to collaborate and share information to prevent terrorist attacks. In addition, this treaty notes the importance of investigating criminal activities and sharing knowledge across borders.

Next:  Terrorism international framework: General UNSC resolutions on terrorism
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