Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 14 March 2005

UN strategy to fight terrorism   

Blurb:  Last week, the UN Secretary General presented a “five D’s” plan to combat terrorism.  The UN and Kofi Annan are themselves coming under pressure, especially from the United States.  And last week the developing countries also showed their displeasure over the process of nominating the next head of UNCTAD.

The United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, made an important speech last week on how to fight terrorism.  It was one of the most interesting speeches the embattled UN leader has made in recent weeks, giving comprehensively treatment to this urgent problem.

The UN and the Secretary General himself is coming under pressure, especially from some politicians and parts of the media in the United States.

Annan presented a five-point strategy (which he called the “five D’s”) for the UN to fight terrorism: dissuading the disaffected from choosing the tactic, denying terrorists the means to carry out attacks, deterring state support, developing state preventive capacity and defending human rights in the struggle against the scourge.    

A task force will be set up under his office to ensure that all parts of the UN play their roles in handling terrorism and related issues.    

Dealing with each of the five D's, Annan said that all sectors of society must play their part in dissuading disaffected groups who choose terrorism because they think its tactics are effective and people in whose name they claim to act will approve.    

He called for a convention outlawing terrorism in all its forms and said the right to resist occupation cannot include the right to deliberately kill or maim civilians.   A high-level panel he set up to study global threats called for a definition of terrorism "which would make it clear that any action constitutes terrorism if it is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians and non-combatants.”

Turning to the second "D" - denying terrorists their means - Mr. Annan noted that the UN had already made important contributions, including the Convention on the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism and travel bans. But more effective action is needed against money-laundering and in the "most vital" area of denying terrorists access to nuclear weapons.    

Preventive action would mean consolidating, securing and eliminating potentially hazardous materials, and implementing export controls.    

On deterring countries from supporting terrorist groups, Mr. Annan noted that the UN had confronted such states and the Security Council had repeatedly applied sanctions. "All states must know that, if they give any kind of support to terrorists, the Council will not hesitate to use coercive measures against them."    

On the fourth "D" - developing state capacity to prevent terrorism - he called for aid for poor countries to promote good governance and  underlining the work of the UN Electoral Assistance Division in helping countries vote - as recently in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Burundi.    

Finally, on the last "D" - defending human rights - Mr. Annan said the UN must insist that in the fight against terrorism it cannot compromise on its core values: the rule of law, protection of civilians, mutual respect between people of different faiths and cultures, and peaceful resolution of conflict.    

He endorsed a proposal to create the position of a Special Rapporteur to report to the UN Commission on Human Rights on the compatibility of counter-terrorism measures with international human rights laws.    

He said international human rights experts are finding that many measures which states are adopting to counter terrorism infringe on human rights and fundamental freedoms.    

"Compromising human rights cannot serve the struggle against terrorism. On the contrary, it facilitates achievement of the terrorist's objective - by ceding him the moral high ground and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where he is most likely to find recruits," he added.    
Kofi Annan himself and the UN have been under great pressure recently.  Investigations are still going on regarding the “food-for-oil” issue, where it is alleged some UN officials may have received favours from the old Iraqi regime relating to the sale of oil under a UN programme.

Annan’s son was working in a company that was involved in the programme, and this has given the investigators reason to question the Secretary General himself. Some politicians in the US who do not like the UN nor Annan had even called for his resignation.

However, a large number of countries rallied to his support, and the European governments in general also seem to support him.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the attacks on Kofi Annan intensified after he made two courageous statements last year. The first was during a BBC interview in which he suggested that the US-UK led war in Iraq was not legal. 

The second was a letter he wrote to the United States urging it not to embark on an attack on the Iraqi town of Fallujah.   The US bombed and attacked Fallujah anyway, in an operation that led to over a thousand Iraqi deaths.

The UN Secretary General has now revamped his cabinet, with the removal of some senior staff and the appointment of Mark Malloch Brown (the chief administrator of the UN Development Programme) as head of staff and chief spokesperson.

He appointed a former US agriculture secretary as head of UNICEF, another big UN agency.  Some analysts concluded Annan was trying to please the US administration with these appointments.

Then on 28 February, Annan announced he had nominated Supachai Panitchpakdi, the former Thai deputy premier and the present World Trade Organisation  director general as the next Secretary General of theUN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  The nomination has to be confirmed by the UN General Assembly.

This time it was the developing countries that got upset with Kofi Annan.  They consider UNCTAD to be a special agency created to serve their economic interests.  Yet the Group of 77 (the umbrella body of the developing countries) and its members were not consulted before Annan announced Supachai’s appointment.

It could also be that diplomats of some developing countries have been disappointed with Supachai’s performance at the WTO.  They think he has not lived up to the expectation that he would champion the development cause in that body.  There are concerns he may not be able to do the needful job of reviving the morale and status of UNCTAD.

It came as something of a shock when the Group of 77 conveyed to Kofi Annan that they could not at this stage endorse his nomination of Supachai.  On 8 March, when the UN General Assembly met to consider the appointment of the UNCTAD chief, the President announced instead that the discussion would have to be deferred.

The postponement was due to a request made by the G77 to Kofi Annan, following a G77 meeting at which countries expressed dissatisfaction with the process by which the nomination had taken place.

The developing countries had not been given notice of the nomination, which they learnt about through press reports.  The G77 members wanted more time to consult with one another and their capitals.  It is not known when the issue will be brought back to the General Assembly.