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13 April 2005

U.N. General Assembly Adopts Nuclear Terrorism Treaty

United States hails act as important in global fight against terror

By Judy Aita
Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- The General Assembly April 13 adopted by consensus the text of the International Treaty for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which makes it a crime for terrorists to possess or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The treaty will be open for signature September 14, the start of the U.N. 60th Anniversary Summit, and will go into effect after 22 nations have ratified it.

The 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," according to Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Stuart Holliday.

"We are pleased that member states demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and worked together in this multilateral setting to conclude the convention and thereby send 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.

"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," he added.

Holliday also said that the treaty is the first counterterrorism convention adopted by the General Assembly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said adoption of the convention "is a vital step forward in multilateral efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism.  The convention will help prevent terrorist groups from gaining access to the most lethal weapons known to humanity.  It will also strengthen the international legal framework against terrorism, which includes 12 existing universal conventions and protocols."

The secretary-general also urged the assembly to press ahead and finalize the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism, work on which has stalled over the definition of terrorism.

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

"Along with the 12 existing international terrorism conventions and protocols, the Nuclear Terrorism Convention will strengthen the international legal framework to combat terrorism.  The 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," Boucher said in a prepared statement.

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

"The United States is pleased that United Nations [members] have demonstrated a seriousness of purpose and worked together in a multilateral setting to conclude the Nuclear Terrorism Convention," he said.

The resolution, which was adopted by the 191-nation General Assembly and contains the text of the convention, calls on all nations to sign and ratify the convention.

The treaty makes it a crime for any individual or group 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 to damage a nuclear facility.

Nations that are parties to the convention are required to change their national laws to make those acts "punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the grave nature of these offenses."  All signatures must also make clear that such terrorist acts cannot be justified "by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, religious or other similar nature."

The convention says that, in the aftermath of an event, the radioactive material is to be handled in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

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


Related: International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism