December 2, 2004


Excerpt from “Suicide Bombing Law” by Justice (Retired) Reuben Bromstein, March 15, 2005, which reviews the relevant Canadian and international law.

The December 2004 United Nations Report, “A more secure world: Our Shared responsibility”, has a major section on Terrorism. It concludes that the UN has been unable to develop a comprehensive strategy against terrorism because of the inability of member States to agree on an anti-terrorism convention, including a definition of terrorism, and from sending an unequivocal message that terrorism is never an acceptable tactic, even for the most defensible of causes.

It says, “This is not so much a legal question as a political one. Legally, virtually all forms of terrorism are prohibited by one of 12 international counter-terrorism conventions, international customary law, the Geneva Conventions or the Rome Statutes. Legal scholars know this, but there is a clear difference between this scattered list of conventions and little-known provisions of other treaties, and a compelling normative framework, understood by all, that should surround the question of terrorism.

The United Nations must achieve the same degree of normative strength concerning non-State use of force as it has concerning State use of force. Lack of agreement on a clear and well-known definition undermines the normative and moral stance against terrorism and has stained the United Nations image. Achieving a comprehensive convention on terrorism, including a clear definition, is a political imperative.”

The report cites an objection, on which an agreed definition stumbles, which is that peoples under foreign occupation have a right to resistance, and then says there is “nothing in the fact of occupation that justifies targeting and killing of civilians”, and that specifically targeting them “must be condemned clearly and unequivocally by all”. The report laments that many States remain outside the conventions and that not all countries ratifying the conventions proceed to adopt internal enforcement measures, and recognizes that States in the regions from which terrorists originate need to address not only their capacity, but also their will to fight terror.

It suggests that where States have the capacity to undertake their obligations but repeatedly fail to do so, the UN may need to take measures to ensure compliance, including sanctions for State non-compliance. It then sets out a proposed definition of terrorism as “any action,

in addition to actions already specified by the existing conventions on aspects of terrorism, the Geneva Conventions and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004), that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, 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”. It makes no specific reference to Suicide Bombing.”