Fighting the Impunity of Terrorism with the United Nations Tools

Fighting the Impunity of Terrorism with the United Nations Tools

Motto: "There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for". Mahatma Gandhi

Friday October 2nd, in New York and worldwide was celebrated the International Day of Non-Violence. It is marked on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. Almost 68 years after Gandhi's assassination, his legacy as a prophet of non-violence is more actual than ever.

On September 29th, President Barack Obama hosted the Leaders' Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, at the United Nations in New York. The Summit was attended by representatives from more than 100 nations, Romania included, more than 20 multilateral institutions, some 120 civil society groups from around the world and partners from the private sector. Its agenda included a reflection upon lessons learned in fighting terrorism, a focus on comprehensive and integrative approaches to defeating ISIL, how to confront the false ideologies espoused by the group and how to address social, political and economic drivers of violent extremism.

In his remarks, President Barack Obama underlined that: "This is not a conventional battle. This is a long-term campaign, not only against this particular network, but against its ideology. Ultimately, it is not going to be enough to defeat ISIL in the battlefield. We have to prevent it from radicalizing, recruiting and inspiring others to violence in the first place. And this means defeating their ideology. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they're defeated by better ideas -- a more attractive and compelling vision. We will ultimately prevail because we are guided by a stronger, better vision: a commitment to the security, opportunity and dignity of every human being."

His words were echoed by the British Prime Minister David Cameron: "We need to win this propaganda war far more effectively than we have to date. I believe in freedom of speech, but freedom to hate is not the same thing".

I share this vision. And, again, as President Obama noted: "Poverty does not cause terrorism. But when people are impoverished and hopeless and feel humiliated by injustice and corruption, this can fuel resentments that terrorists exploit. Which is why sustainable development is part of countering violent extremism. So the real path to lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; I believe it is more democracy".

Justice is part of democracy. Together with freedom speech, freedom of religion and strong civil societies, it has to play a part in countering terrorism and violent extremism. Fighting the impunity of terrorism with the tools of international law, under the aegis of the United Nations, is part of Romania's approach and my country has a long and consolidated tradition in promoting the UN multilateral diplomacy and the UN legal instruments.

Speaking in front of the UN General Assembly on September 29th, President of Romania Klaus Iohannis sent an unequivocal message: "The consolidation of international justice and the need to put an end to impunity should trigger a reinforced legal approach towards international terrorism. Terrorism is a sum of crimes against individuals and societies. Romania believes that the international community should do more in combating terrorism with the tools of law, including international criminal law. It is with that purpose in mind that Romania and Spain triggered a process of reflection on the possible creation of an International Court for the Crime of Terrorism".

Same day, Foreign Ministers of Romania and Spain co-hosted a debate on the topic "Towards an International Court against Terrorism (ICT) - Ideas and Challenges", in the margins of the UNGA ministerial week. The debate reflected how to fight against terrorism with the means of international criminal law, and not only with the military force. The topic is both complex and sensitive: how to tackle the definition of terrorism, how to define jurisdiction, how to convince states to cooperate. All these elements were open for debate. It was underlined that the ICT added value would culminate to its preventative effect on perpetrators and the question of victims of terrorism came central: there is too much impunity for crimes of terrorism and too many victims not receiving justice nowadays. Hence, the discussion on the ICT was timely.

Terrorism attacks the core sovereignty of a country and therefore the issue of countering terrorism and violent extremism brought the whole of the UN together. More than half of the UN Security Council resolutions adopted over the past year focused on this topic and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was resolute in upholding the human rights in the fight against terrorism. Terrorist groups constitute a direct violation of the UN Charter and a great impediment to the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Political will and support from the civil society are essential for the continuation of the Romanian-Spanish initiative but one thing is clear: terrorism is a grave challenge and the international justice could be one of the greatest force at the disposal of mankind to counter it. It could be mightier than the mightiest weapon. As the great Romanian legal expert Vespasian Pella wrote in 1950: "Without an international court, indicted people would always feel convicted not as a result of guilt, but of defeat".


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