A universal law to fight terror

Terror has become a global threat affecting the entire world. Consequently, the fight against terror has come to occupy first place on the agendas of states and international organizations.

The international nature of terror has made a global struggle against terror essential and created a powerful need for international collaboration. Romania was the first country that indicated the need for a joint struggle and collaboration. In 1926, Romania suggested the League of Nations consider drafting a ‘convention to render terrorism universally punishable.’

Following that, an international document known as the ‘Geneva Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Terrorism’ was drafted on November 16th, 1937. However, the convention was only signed by one country and failed to enter into force due to lack of sufficient backing. 

One hundred and nine separate definitions of terror were produced between 1936 and 1981, but no internationally accepted definition has yet been made, even to this day; that is why there is still no general international agreement on the subject of terror. Although the United Nations, which has been widely active on the subject of the fight against terror since the 1990s, has condemned all forms of terror in many decrees, no universally agreed-upon definition of ‘terror’ has yet been produced.

The U.N. has sought to fill the gap resulting from states failing to agree on a common definition with international documents intended to prevent specific acts of terror, such as hijacking planes, taking hostages or bombings. There are currently 13 treaties and three protocols, 16 legal documents in other words, on the subject.


There are four main reasons for states’ failing to agree on a common definition of terror and to produce an international treaty to prevent terror. These are legal, political, psychological and strategic in nature.

The legal reason concerns the concept of ‘self determination’ in international law. Self determination, countries’ right to determine their own futures, is explicitly defined in articles 1, 51, 55 and 103 of the U.N. Treaty. The international community refuses to recognize legitimate struggles for self-determination or national liberation of colonial people and people under foreign occupation as ‘terror.’ The fear of damaging these legitimate struggles prevents a general definition of terrorism from being produced.

The political reason concerns the relation between political players and terror. Some states provide secret backing for terror in order to weaken other, rival states. Since a lawless climate suits such states’ interests, they do not contribute to the adoption of a common approach. However, since this has also begun impacting on the states in question for some time now, they have begun amending their formerly entrenched, irreconcilable positions.

The psychological reason involves the ideological sympathy that some countries feel for national liberation movements. One country’s “terror organization” may be another country’s “freedom fighter.” For example, there are countries that refuse to recognize the PKK and ASALA as terror organizations, despite the fact that these groups have committed acts are accepted as ̈́terrorist acts in all international documents. Again some countries want to define the way authoritarian regimes oppress their own citizens as ‘state terror.’ It is impossible to minimize or eliminate this difference in approaches.

The strategic reason concerns states’ desire to be flexible. States want to be sufficiently flexible to be able to behave in the light of their own interests in the face of acts of terror in the future. They are reluctant to be bound by legal commitments. They are also reluctant to determine in advance their reactions to matters that will affect the interests of their countries and citizens and thus to restrict their own freedom of maneuver by their own signatures.


All states today are closely bound to one another through economic, political and cultural ties, and a development in any one part of the world affect everywhere else. Under such a system it is beyond question that all states and communities, and even all individuals, will be damaged by an act of terror. The dreadful scale of acts of terror makes it now more essential than ever for states to come together on a common point.

What needs to be done is to establish a mechanism, similar to that established by the Council of Europe for the protection of human rights in the presence of the United Nations. In the same way that the Council of Europe has made member states’ rules and policies compatible with the convention by means of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations can set up a similar mechanism through its official judicial body, the International Court of Justice.

There is in fact no need for a common definition of terror or a terror treaty in order to do this as there are already 16 legal documents recognized by the U.N. The International Court of Justice, which every member of the U.N. has a duty to recognize, can establish its own law on terror on the basis of those 16 documents. That law may also contain definitions, rules and sanctions. In that way, the common approach that states have failed to achieve for the reasons cited above can thus be established through the articles of the International Court of Justice.


The current international climate suggests that the scale of global terrorism will grow in the days and years to come. The establishment of an effective international legal mechanism against terror will undoubtedly contribute to reducing that threat. We therefore hope that all states, and particularly the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, will at once establish a joint approach, or if that is not possible, that they will at least contribute to the development of a common law on terror under the arbitrage of international judicial bodies.

Adnan Oktar's piece on New Straits Times & Daily Mail:


2015-03-12 14:25:35

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