Worldwide: A Global Purview Of Counter-Terrorism Efforts

Last Updated: 5 February 2019
Article by STA Law Firm
Most Read Contributor in United Arab Emirates, January 2019

With nearly 41% of all terrorist attacks resulting in casualty, and a dramatic increase in public targeted incidents, governing bodies representing both domestic and international interests alike have invested countless resources into better understanding why terrorism occurs, and how legislatively, it can be stopped. The result has led to an intriguing conceptualization of terrorism commencement theory, international convention prohibitions, and domestic statute adoptions.

Understanding Terrorism: Scope, Scale, and Premeditative Factors Guiding Legislative Enactment

Statistically, post-1990, approximately 100 to 200 international terrorist attacks have occurred each year. Of this number, 40% of offenses were directly targeted against U.S. interests. Heinous acts of terrorism such as the U.S. 9/11 Twin Towers attack and 2007 London Bombing have demonstrated that atrocities stemming from terrorism extend beyond the loss of life or injury. Rather, both domestic and international acts of terrorism hold the significant capacity to adversely impact socio-political and economic sectors. Empirical evidence has suggested that terrorism, directly and indirectly, results in: infrastructural damage, unemployment, weakened commerce, an elevated need for security, counterterrorism budgeting, and escalated insurance premiums. Globally, the vast majority of attacks have occurred within the Middle East and Europe, however, the highest rates of mortality have occurred within Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

To fully comprehend why terrorism has become an increasingly widespread phenomenon within the last half-century, one must first grasp what constitutes terrorism, and how domestic and international acts of terrorism differentiate. For an atrocity to be classified as an act of "terrorism," intentions must target "...premeditated political violence against civilians with the objective of maximizing media exposure to the act and, ultimately, to the terror group and/or to its cause. Political violence is achieved when either an individual (independent of the state) or the state itself commits assault with the purpose of obtaining a political goal. For the scope of this article, two primary forms of terrorism will be discussed: domestic and international incidents.

  • Domestic: Domestic terrorist attacks occur when a perpetrator commits an act of political violence within their own nation's jurisdiction. Consequences of a domestic attack are intended only to impact the venue country (whether that be its structural institutions, citizens, or policies). Within a domestic attack, the offenders, their victims, and the overarching goal exist within one territorial jurisdiction.
  • International: Transnational terrorist attacks engage offenders, victims, and targets of multiple nations. 

There is significant debate existing between international governing bodies as to why acts of terrorism are committed. Despite a dramatic surge in research funding, the enactment of fifteen international counter-terrorism conventions, and enforcement of domestic counter-terrorism legislation worldwide (such as the UK Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015), conclusions have remained predominately elusive. Lacking unanimous agreement, three theories have been generally accepted by members of the international community. At the legislative level, understanding these hypotheses has been absolutely essential for constructing laws aimed at curtailing terrorism. Succinctly, research has suggested:

  • Domestic political instability and international terrorism are intrinsically connected.  This perspective, coined the Escalation Effect, proposes: "...domestic political instability drives international terrorism...[in that] politically unstable countries offer propitious conditions" for civil war outbreak, guerrilla warfare, sophisticated "terror" training, and the accumulation of terrorist human capital.
  • Terrorism is most likely to arise out of territories with meager political development and a deteriorated economy.
  • International terrorism commences as the result of a "weak" state. This concept is referred to as the "failed state hypothesis." Weakness is determined by evaluating the social, economic, and political welfare of a nation.

Together, these speculations have helped guide the evolution of national and international conventions, resolutions, acts, and codes governing anti-terrorism legislation.

Evaluating the Aims of Anti-Terrorism Legislation

There are two central focal points specific to preventative counter-terrorism legislative efforts internationally: collective security and human rights. On the international scale, the United Nations Security Council has enacted a variety of resolutions since 21 January 1992 to combat and condemn global acts of terrorism. According to Article 24 of the UN Charter, the function of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security amongst member states. In regards to counter-terrorism, the Council is predominantly concerned with managing collective security. The UN assessment of terrorist insurgency began in the mid-1960s through the formation of several multilateral treaties, which included the Tokyo Convention of 1963 and the Montreal Convention of 1971. These conventions "...categorized the main forms of terrorist acts as criminal...[defining] crimes and obligated state parties to prosecute or extradite suspected offenders.] Although UN treaties such as these serve punitive and deterrent roles, their effectiveness at mitigating incidents of terrorism is highly controversial. As tragedies resulting from terrorist acts have demonstrated, a discrepancy often exists between a state's claim of procedural duty follow-through and reality.  The 1988 Lockerbie tragedy demonstrates just this. Although the trial of the two Lockerbie bombing suspects was "achieved partly through the intercession of the [UN] Security Council, utilizing its collective security powers to deal with a past act of terrorism...[it was] an indication of future behavior by Libya in supporting terrorism." Following this realization, and upon criticism of targeted sanctions, the UN Security Council declared that states not only have a duty to satisfy collective security obligations but also, adhere to their duties of protecting human rights.  The General Assembly's Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by UN Member states in 2006 affirmed this declaration. The Strategy made clear that "...states must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, particularly human rights law and international humanitarian law.

International Anti-Terrorism Conventions

From an international purview, all counter-terrorism conventions are enacted under the UN. Conventions worth analyzing in this article include:

  • 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (Ratified by 169 states)

    Through this convention, the UN confronts the increasingly widespread prevalence of explosives and other lethal devices used in terrorist attacks. Noting foregoing provisions did not directly prohibit such incidents, Article 2 is designed to outline committable offenses under this topic. The article states, "Any person commits an offense within the meaning of this Convention if that person unlawfully and intentionally delivers, places, discharges or detonates an explosive or other lethal device in, into or against a place of public use, a State or government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility...." Under the 1997 Convention, explosive and lethal devices were defined as weaponry or equipment holding the capacity to induce severe material/economic damage, kill, or cause bodily harm. Article 2 also asserts guilt if an individual acts as an accomplice in or directs others to commit the act of terrorism. The Convention, in Article 4 requires State Parties to implement measures "to establish criminal offenses under its domestic law the offenses set forth in article 2...[and] To make those offenses punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the grave nature of those offenses." As with all of the anti-terrorism conventions set forth by the UN, the jurisdiction of an offense is dependent on three conditions. A State may claim authority over a terrorist attack if: it takes place in the Member states' territory, a flying vessel is registered under the States' laws, or the offender is a State national. It is also worth noting that the Convention excludes (in Article 19) "...activities of armed forces during an armed conflict..." from governance as international humanitarian law supervises activities executed by armed force.
  • 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (Ratified by 187 states)

    Noting that financial terrorism had evolved into a grave matter of concern for the international community and that a vast majority of international terrorism acts were committed due to financial backing assistance, the 1999 Convention stressed the need to devise preventative measures to eradicate the financing of terrorism. Similar in design to the previous convention, Article 2 outlines committable offenses. The Article specifies an offense is committed under the Convention if an individual "...directly or indirectly, unlawfully and wilfully, provides or collects funds with the intention that they should be used or in the knowledge that they are to be used... [to] cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian...." The Convention is non-applicable (under Article 3) to offenses performed by nationals of the State in which the act occurred, or when an offense occurs "within a single State."  The Convention also prescribes ratifying states to adopt measures of enforcement/deferral. A State Party is strongly advised (where necessary) to institute criminal offenses and proportionate penalties for the actions prohibited in Article 2. 
  • 2010 Protocol Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (Ratified by 22 states)

    Created as a supplement to the 1970 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft, the 2010 Protocol amended many previous articles of the Convention. Discussed in the Protocol's preamble, the international community was "deeply concerned" with the intensification of civil aviation offenses. The intended aim of creating this Protocol was to subdue future "seizure or exercise of control of aircraft." Article 2 of the Protocol replaced Article 1 of the Convention. Under the amendment, "Any person commits an offense if that person unlawfully and intentionally seizes or exercises control of an aircraft in service by force...or by coercion...." Additionally, the threat of aircraft seizure, the attempt of the offense, serving as an accomplice, or directing others to commit the offense is all punishable acts under the Protocol. Article 3 (replacing Article 2 of the Convention) classifies offenses as "punishable by severe penalties."
  • The 16th Proposed Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (Not yet ratified)

    Currently, the UN is in the negotiation phase of their 16th counter-terrorism convention. The Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is intended to ban all types of international terrorism, revoke terrorism fund access, ban terrorist access to arms, and deny terrorists refuge.  The proposal is undergoing a negotiation deadlock, as unclarity surrounds whether or not a state's armed forces or self-determination could classify as an act of terrorism.

State Anti-Terrorism Legislation:

From a national jurisdiction enforcement perspective, the United States and the United Kingdom have both enacted comprehensive legislative doctrine condemning acts of terrorism. Listed below are two of the countries' most all-embracive legislative attempts at counter-terrorism:

UK Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015)

Receiving Royal Assent 12 February 2015, the UK Counter-Terrorism and Security Act was passed by Parliament with the intent of: inhibiting terrorist activity resulting from entry to or exit from the United Kingdom, enhancing the monitoring of potential wrongdoers, fighting theory backing terrorism, granting law enforcement investigative authority to seize passports upon entry to the country, producing a Temporary Exclusion Order, modernizing aviation/maritime/rail border security, and guaranteeing the financing of terrorism is eradicated.

18 U.S. Code Chapter 113-B

U.S. Chapter 113-B provides numerous sections defining punishable crimes and penalties under the act of terrorism.

Section 2332a. "Use of weapons of mass destruction," states that in the case of an offense committed in the United States against a U.S. national: any person (without lawful consent) who threatens to use or does use a weapon of mass destruction against a U.S. national, individual or property within U.S. territory, or property under ownership by the United States, "shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, and if death results, shall be punished by death...."

Section 2332b. "Acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries," prohibits the following acts: killing, maiming, kidnapping, committing assault with a dangerous weapon, and causing (or conspiring to create) bodily injury through inflicting structural damage. Punishment ranges from 10 years to life in prison.

Section 2332d. "Financial transactions," asserts any U.S. person with knowledge that another nation is supporting international terrorism, and "engages in a financial transaction with the government of that country, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both."

Section 2332f. "Bombings of places of public use, government facilities, public transportation systems, and infrastructure facilities," classifies chargeable actions as the delivery or detonation of an explosive in a public place, government facility, transportation system, or infrastructural structure. The detonation must be done with an intention of causing bodily harm, death, or damage. Additionally, individuals who conspire to commit an offense previously listed in this section will be charged. Penalties for such charges under this section are the same as the penalties under Section 2332a.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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