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The Importance of International Counterterrorism

The Importance of International Counterterrorism Treaties

Ambassador Francis X. Taylor, Coordinator for Counterterrorism

Testimony Before the Committee on Foreign Relations

United States Senate, Washington, DC

October 23, 2001

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

Thank you for scheduling in such a timely manner this hearing on the two pending counterterrorism treaties, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify, as I would like to stress the importance of these treaties on two levels: their role in the law enforcement efforts against terrorists and their place in the multilateral counterterrorism strategy we are now implementing in concert with our traditional NATO, EU and G-7 partners, and other key foreign governments.

With me today is the Department's Legal Adviser, William H. Taft, IV. Following my statement, Mr. Taft will provide additional background on the Conventions.

I want to begin by expressing condolences to the families of the thousands of Americans and citizens of 80 countries who, exactly six weeks ago, were killed, injured or terrorized by these cruel acts against humanity. I also want to express my admiration and appreciation for the courageous airline passengers and the thousands of law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency service and medical personnel and many others who responded so magnificently to save lives and avert an even greater tragedy.

Mr. Chairman, the horrific events of September 11 have reinforced the need for a far reaching, coordinated approach to deal with the threat of international terrorism. Although military activities attract the most attention, they are a small part of the campaign. Because of the evolving nature of terrorism and the efforts of terrorists to conceal their activities, we must use a variety of tools such as diplomacy, foreign assistance, multilateral law enforcement cooperation, as well as military actions as appropriate. We will continue to refine and use these tools in a coordinated manner to expose terrorists' networks and supporters, wherever and whenever possible to detect and disrupt their activities.

ROLE OF TREATIES

The two treaties before you, and the other 10 major counterterrorism conventions, to which the United States is a party, are key elements in this broad framework of the international counterterrorism structure for the 21st Century.

These treaties are a major component of our international strategy to develop a comprehensive framework of agreements that obligate nations to criminalize terrorist conduct, to assist one another in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes, and to extradite alleged offenders to another country with jurisdiction or submit the case for prosecution.

The Terrorist Bombings Convention, which is already in force for many other countries, is part of the web of 12 treaties already in place designed to track down and punish those who perpetrate these heinous violent acts that threaten civilized society.

Terrorist bombings and similar attacks have been a particular scourge in recent years. The United States has unfortunately been a frequent victim.

In addition to the tragic events of September 11, the 1993 World Trade Center attack, the 1996 attacks on the U.S. Khobar Towers facility in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, triggered both international condemnation and multinational cooperation in bringing perpetrators to justice. The earlier attacks against U.S. and other targets prompted the development of the Terrorist Bombing Convention.

THE TERRORISM FINANCING CONVENTION

The Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism also was developed against a background of our experience with terrorism. It is part of the effort to starve terrorist groups of their lifeblood, financial support.

The Convention criminalizes financial support for the terrorist activities of groups such as al-Qaida and requires parties to the Convention to cooperate in investigations and prosecutions of such financing. It will thereby supplement our existing network of laws, executive orders, UN Security Council resolutions and other international efforts to deprive terrorists of the assets they need to pursue their deadly work.

Ratification of the two Conventions before the Senate is important to our overall counterterrorism strategy and the President's Campaign against Terrorism that has taken shape since the attacks on the United States on September 11.

A key part of our diplomatic effort in the campaign is urging countries to ratify and implement all 12 of the major international terrorism conventions if they have not done so already. Our latest information from the United Nations is that 58 countries have signed and 29 have become parties to the Terrorist Bombings Convention and 58 countries have signed and four have become parties to the Terrorism Financing Convention. The Bombings Convention has been in force among other countries since May 2001, and the Financing Convention will enter into force once 22 countries deposit their instruments of ratification.

Our government will be better positioned to provide leadership in this regard once the United States itself ratifies these two Conventions before the Committee today. Every day since September 11, we see reporting of new interest and actions by other counties on the treaties.

We also are encouraging countries all over the world to reexamine their own laws and strengthen their and implement bilateral law enforcement, financial, trade, and political sanctions against those that finance or otherwise support terrorists. Great Britain and Greece, for example, passed tighter counterterrorism laws even before the September 11 attacks.

Other countries are considering doing the same. These efforts have been very encouraging.

OTHER STEPS

In the multilateral arena, early ratification of the pending treaties will also demonstrate the importance both branches of government attach to the collective international steps against terrorism.

We are working hard, both with our major western and G-7 allies as well with the broader world community, to support coordinated and multilateral efforts. For example, with other countries, we obtained passage on September 28 of U.N. Security Council resolution 1373, which requires all UN Member States to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts and to freeze all terrorist-linked assets. Even prior to the passage of UNSCR 1373 we have seen rapid, favorable responses to our bilateral calls to implement UNSCR 1333 of December 2000, which, among other things, requires Member States to freeze bin Laden/al-Qaida assets.

We also propose to utilize the money laundering expertise of existing entities such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units and the anti-organized crime capabilities of the Lyons Group. The G-7 Financial Ministers also agreed to counterterrorism cooperation at their meeting in Washington earlier this month.

At the same time, the U.S. has been taking important unilateral terrorist financing initiatives. President Bush's Executive Order published on September 24 froze the assets here of 27 terrorist groups and their supporters associated with al-Qaida. On October 12, 39 more groups and individuals were added to the Executive Order's annex. The Administration, meanwhile, has established an interagency task force to work on these and related financial matters.

Earlier key steps aimed at curbing terrorism fund raising include the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996, which you, Mr. Chairman, wearing your Judiciary Committee hat, helped steer through Congress. This important law makes it a criminal offense for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly contribute funds or other material support to any groups that the Secretary of State designates as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). On October 5, the Secretary redesignated 26 FTO's whose two-year designations were due to expire on October 8. The State Department's Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program, developed a new course to help train foreign officials in the practical aspects of spotting and curbing terrorism money flows.

These above steps were prompted by the emergence in recent years of groups that do not depend on state support, but largely raise funds themselves, through contributions via charitable groups, through front companies, and through criminal activities. These funds are important to the terrorist groups in many ways, and not only for directly financing terrorist attacks.

The funding also is essential for groups that operate schools, medical clinics and other facilities in order to develop broader support and help attract recruits. Some groups such as HAMAS assure potential suicide bombers that their families will later receive financial support.

It is important that people throughout the world understand that contributions to organizations that have ties to terrorist groups -- even if the organizations conduct some charitable activities -- also contribute to the cold-blooded murder committed by terrorists. I would like to quote from Section 301 of the 1996 Antiterrorism Act.

"(F)oreign terrorist organizations that engage in terrorist activity are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct."

EARLY RATIFICATION

Mr. Chairman, the international conventions and the broader counterterrorism efforts of which they are a part, underscore the point that acts of terrorism -- terrorist bombings, hijacking of aircraft, taking of hostages -- are crimes whatever the motivation. These acts are not acceptable to the civilized world. They should not be rationalized or glamorized. They should be punished. Approval of the two Conventions before you today will help ensure that perpetrators of these heinous acts are brought to justice. There is no single solution to the problem of international terrorism.

We are certain, however, that these legal instruments before the Committee will strengthen our ability to fight international terrorism. They add powerful new tools that will complement those already in use domestically and internationally. Given the serious threat we face, early ratification is clearly needed.

We very much appreciate the Committee's decision to consider these important treaties, and recommend that they receive advice and consent to ratification at an early date. If I may, I will now turn to Mr. Taft, the State Department's Legal Adviser, who will provide additional information about these two Conventions.

[End]

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