World Governments Unanimously Adopt Treaty on Nuclear Terrorism

NEW YORK, New York, April 14, 2005 (ENS) - The 191 nation UN General Assembly unanimously adopted an international treaty against nuclear terrorism on Wednesday. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the treaty as "a vital step forward" in multilateral efforts to prevent terrorists from gaining access to "the most lethal weapons known to humanity."

The treaty makes it a crime for any individual or group, but not a government, to possess or use radioactive material or a radioactive device with the intention to cause death or serious bodily injury or substantial damage to property or the environment. It also makes it a crime for an individual or group to damage a nuclear facility.

General Assembly

The UN General Assembly, established in 1945, is the UN's main deliberative body of the United Nations and provides a forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues. (Photo courtesy UN)
Nations that are parties to the convention must change their national laws to make those acts "punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the grave nature of these offenses."

The treaty, formally known as the United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, requires the extradition or prosecution of those implicated and encourages the exchange of information and inter-state cooperation.

All signatories must make clear that such terrorist acts cannot be justified "by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, religious or other similar nature."

The Nuclear Terrorism Convention will open for signature on September 14 at the high level plenary meeting scheduled for the Assembly's 60th session, and it will enter into force after 22 governments ratify it

Annan called on all countries to become parties to the convention without delay, noting that it was one of the key recommendations contained in his recent report on overall UN reform called "In Larger Freedom."

The secretary-general urged adoption of the convention most recently in his March 23 address to the meeting of the League of Arab States in Algiers, Algeria.

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UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan briefs the media in Algiers March 23. (Photo courtesy UN)
Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Stuart Holliday said the new convention "will provide a legal basis for international cooperation in the investigation, prosecution, and extradition of those who commit terrorist acts involving radioactive material or a nuclear device."

The convention sends "an undeniably clear signal that the international community will not tolerate those who threaten or commit terrorist acts involving radioactive material or nuclear devices," Holliday said.

The treaty joins 12 other anti-terrorism treaties, but it is the first counterterrorism convention adopted by the General Assembly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on U.S. targets.

"By its action today, the General Assembly has shown that it can, when it has the political will, play an important role in the global fight against terrorism," said Holliday.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States welcomes the General Assembly’s unanimous adoption of the Nuclear Terrorism Convention.

He said that President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin called for early adoption of this convention in their February 24 joint statement on Nuclear Security Cooperation.

An ad hoc committee of the General Assembly began drafting the convention in 1996 at the urging of Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow Wednesday that the initiative, advanced by Russia almost eight years ago, "was approved actually unchanged."

He said it is the first international accord adopted at the Russian initiative and he emphasized its preemptive nature. "Today the threat of weapons of mass destruction getting into the hands of terrorists is on everybody's lips," Lavrov told the Novosti news agency.

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Ad hoc committee Chairman Rohan Perera of Sri Lanka (Photo courtesy YK Lions)
Ad hoc committee Chairman Rohan Perera of Sri Lanka told a press briefing on April 1 at UN Headquarters in New York that negotiations had been stuck on several politically motivated, outstanding issues that the Committee had tried to deal with for several years.

Perera noted a proposal by Pakistan on use of nuclear weapons by governments, which many felt were outside the scope of a law enforcement convention dealing with non-state actors. While disarmament treaties deal with the actions of States, this convention deals with the acts of individuals. The scope of the convention, as with the other 12 in the area of terrorism, deals with individual criminal responsibility. The proposal of Pakistan was to include the acts of States in the convention.

Another proposal was by the United States, which wanted to include in the preamble the idea that the goals of the peaceful utilization of nuclear technology should not be used as a cover for proliferation.

That, in turn, prompted Iran to propose an amendment to the United States proposal, saying that all States parties to the treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Both proposals failed.