27 February 1998

Press Release


Draft Convention Submitted to Working Group of Sixth Committee

The Ad Hoc Committee established by the General Assembly to elaborate conventions on the suppression of terrorist bombings and on acts of nuclear terrorism concluded its second session this morning by adopting a report, as orally amended, on its work to draft a convention on nuclear terrorism.

The Committee, which met from 17 to 27 February, mainly in working group, considered a number of proposals during an article-by-article review of the 20-article draft convention, which was submitted by the Russian Federation.

The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings was adopted by the Assembly last December after elaborating on the outcome of the Committee's work during its first session earlier that year. The Convention, which is open for signature until 31 December 1999, will enter into force 30 days after the date of the deposit of the twenty-second instrument of ratification.

The report on this year's session will be submitted to a working group of the Sixth Committee (Legal), which will undertake further discussion and elaboration from 28 September to 9 October during the Assembly's fifty-third session. The report contains three sections and three annexes. The sections include an introduction, a description of the Committee's proceedings in plenary and working group and a summary of the Committee's general debate. The annexes contain the draft international convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism; proposed amendments to the draft; and an informal summary of the Committee's discussions in working group.

The draft convention covers, among others, definitions; the scope of the convention; the obligation of States parties to implement the instrument; detention, extradition or prosecution; cooperation at the stage following settlement of an incident of nuclear terrorism; and cooperation to prevent the actions that would be proscribed by the nuclear terrorism convention.

When he introduced the draft convention at the beginning of the Committee's session on 17 February, the representative of the Russian Federation said the text was an important means to fill the substantial gaps in existing legal instruments. Earlier conventions extended only to nuclear material being transported internationally, or being used, stored or transported in a given State. He also stressed that the draft would apply to threats to use nuclear components by individuals or organizations, regardless of the object being attacked.

In closing remarks today, the Committee's Chairman, Philippe Kirsch (Canada), said the possibility of an armed attack on a nuclear installation or the use of nuclear materials to cause serious harm were issues that deserved to be taken seriously and addressed by the international community. There was general agreement that any instrument should complement existing international treaties, although it was recognized some overlap was unavoidable. A convention on nuclear terrorism should not undermine international work against terrorism or already existing instruments designed to secure the physical protection of nuclear material.

He said the Committee was still considering whether to elaborate a new convention or a protocol to either the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material or the 1997 Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings. Important elements of the proposed draft convention on nuclear terrorism were drawn from the 1980 Convention, which largely dealt with the use of nuclear material for peaceful purposes.

Continuing, he said if the Ad Hoc Committee or the working group of the Sixth Committee (Legal) decided on a separate convention, rather than a protocol, then it would still have to be determined to what extent the new instrument took into account the 1997 Convention. There were still uncertainties on how to deal with several complex issues, including the exact nature of the offence, the materials or facilities to be included and the scope of the convention. Future work should focus on the content of the exchanges in the working group and how to build on the progress made so far, and reflect general discussions rather then just individual suggestions.

Before the adjournment of the Committee's second session, expressions of appreciation for the work of its members and officers were made by the representatives of the Russian Federation, Malawi (on behalf of the African Group of States), United Kingdom (on behalf of the Western European and Other States), Mexico (Latin American and Caribbean), China and Japan (Asia).

Working Group Discussions

According to the report, the working group proceeded in two stages. In the first stage, the group reviewed article 1 and considered the definition of

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the material and offences to be covered under the draft convention, in order to clarify the objectives and scope of the agreement.

There was general agreement that the definitions should focus on combating terrorist acts, the report states. There was also general agreement that all definitions should be assembled in article 1 and that they should precede the descriptions of offences, which would be contained in article 1(bis), similar to the structure of the 1997 Terrorist Bombings Convention.

In the second stage of its work, the group conducted a first reading of the provisions that contained elements specific to the draft convention or not identical to those found in relevant treaties. For those purposes the group reviewed articles 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 to 14. The group also examined the preambular paragraphs, as well as the remaining articles.

Several delegations proposed adding two new paragraphs to article 2, which describes the scope of the convention. The first would safeguard the inalienable right of States to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The second paragraph would reproduce article 3 of the 1997 Terrorist Bombings Convention, which states that the draft convention does not govern the military activities of States in armed conflict or in exercise of their official duties.

Some speakers suggested that the text of article 4, which concerns States' cooperation to prevent or prosecute acts of nuclear terrorism, should be limited to measures to prevent illegal or unauthorized access to radioactive material. Other speakers favoured extending the scope of the article to include measures against illicit trafficking. There was also a suggestion to make the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the focal point for consultation and exchange of information under the article.

Regarding article 10, concerning the settlement of an act of nuclear terrorism, some speakers voiced their concerns about the difficulties that might arise if the return was obligatory, because some States were legally precluded from returning nuclear components or products. Some delegations stressed the need to take into account the role that the IAEA could provide, while others said that States could take care of the matter themselves.

A number of delegations proposed additional paragraphs to the draft convention's preamble. According to those paragraphs, the preamble would: recognize the importance of a universally agreed definition of international terrorism; recall Assembly resolutions on the importance of nuclear disarmament; emphasize the responsibility of a State for the establishment, implementation and maintenance of a physical protection system for nuclear material, devices and installations on its territory; stress the inherent right of all States to engage in research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes; and recall IAEA recommendations for physical protection of radioactive materials and facilities.

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Highlights of General Debate

During the general debate, several speakers said universal adherence to a nuclear terrorism convention would address the emerging threats from groups operating across borders, several speakers said. The convention would also help reduce the probability of nuclear and radioactive terrorism, and safeguard sites that produced nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Many speakers called for a close examinations of the draft convention's relationship with existing legal instruments. Delegations cited three treaties that covered similar issues: the 1980 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings; and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) of 1996. Several speakers said the Committee should consider whether the most effective method of dealing with the nuclear threat would be to elaborate the draft convention or amend or add a protocol to the 1980 Convention.

The Committee should clarify the draft convention's definition of nuclear terrorism and the scope of its applications, some speakers said. The provisions concerning jurisdiction, extradition and the rendering of mutual assistance should also be studied. In addition, the text should not modify provisions of current international humanitarian law. Concerned that the draft only addressed terrorism by individuals, other speakers said that terrorism could also involve acts by States, especially in the case of nuclear terrorism.

A representative of the IAEA said it would be constructive to supplement international standards to ensure the control of nuclear material with a convention that would extend the coverage to the broadest possible range of radioactive material, as well as nuclear facilities, explosive and other devices. Measures were also needed to prevent unauthorized access to such material, to protect facilities from intrusion and to develop more effective controls against illicit trafficking. Coherence and consistency should be maintained in applying all related international legal instruments in the nuclear field, he said.

Officers, Membership

Philippe Kirsch (Canada) is Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee. Carlos Fernando Diaz (Costa Rica), Hussein Mubarak (Egypt) and Rohan Perera (Sri Lanka) are Vice-Chairmen. Martin Smejkal (Czech Republic) is the Rapporteur.

Established by resolution 51/210, of 17 December 1996, the Committee is open to all Member States of the United Nations, specialized agencies and the IAEA.

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