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International conventions on terrorism


International conventions on terrorism

Anti-terrorism legislation designs various types of laws passed in the aim of fighting terrorism. They usually, if not always, follow specific bombings or assassinations. Anti-terrorism legislation usually includes specific amendments allowing the state to bypass its own legislation when fighting terrorism-related crimes, under the grounds of necessity.

Because of this suspension of regular procedure, such legislation is sometimes criticized as a form of lois scélérates which may unjustly repress all kinds of popular protests. Critics often allege that anti-terrorism legislation endangers democracy by creating a state of exception that allows authoritarian style of government.

Anti-terrorism in the 19th century

Template:See At the end of the 19th century, Russia, Europe and the United States were confronted to a new radical movement which engaged in violent and illegal acts. This movement was first created in Tsarist Russia, where young intellectuals, staunchly positivist atheists, began to engage in a violent struggle against the Czar. Finding their influence in Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What Is To Be Done?, they began to advocate assassinations and bombings.

One of the first group, Zemlya y Volya (Land and Liberty), formed of upper-class professional revolutionaries, started armed struggle against the Czar's regime. Sergey Nechayev (1847–1882) would become one of the most famous figures of what quickly became known as a "Nihilist" movement, whose fate was described by Albert Camus in The Just Assassins (1949) — Camus would later write a thoroughly thought-out essay on existentialism rebellion and the use of violence in history in The Rebel (1951), which denounced both quietism and terrorism. Russian nihilists eventually succeeded in assassinating Alexander III in 1881.

The "nihilist movement" then quickly spread to all of Europe, in particular via one of the founder of anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin, who fled to Switzerland, a haven for political refugees of the time. There, he joined the First International (IAW), which eventually theorized "propaganda of the deed." Starting in the 1880s, a wave of bombings and assassination attempts, organized by people close to the anarchist movement, literally began to terrorize the governing classes. Propaganda of the deed was not necessary violent action, but often took that form.

Spinning on the right of rebellion, which had been theorized centuries ago by liberal thinker John Locke, such anarchists had no moral problems in theorizing regicides and tyrannicides, since it was "for the good of the people." Bakunin thus wrote that "we must spread our principles, not with words but with deeds, for this is the most popular, the most potent, and the most irresistible form of propaganda."[1]

As soon as 1887, several anarchists opposed themselves to what they saw as a self-defeating tactic, including Peter Kropotkin, who wrote that year in Le Révolté that "it is an illusion to believe that a few kilos of dynamite will be enough to win against the coalition of exploiters". Kropotkin's pragmatism eventually proved to be more realist than the most radical anarchist's idealism. Soon, all the labour movement was confronted to strong repression from the state, which did not manage to convince the people to start an insurrectionary and general strike, as had been expected by the theorists of propaganda of the deed. Furthermore, as depicted in Joseph Conrad's novel, agent provocateurs also infiltrated the movement, permitting many arrests in the social movement.

In France, after Auguste Vaillant's attempt, the "Opportunist Republicans" voted in 1893 the first anti-terrorist laws, which were quickly denounced as lois scélérates. These laws severely restricted freedom of expression. The first one condemned apology of any felony or crime as a felony itself, permitting widespread censorship of the press. The second one allowed to condemn any person directly or indirectly involved in a propaganda of the deed act, even if no killing was effectively carried on. The last one condemned any person or newspaper using anarchist propaganda (and, by extension, socialist libertarians present or former members of the International Workingmen's Association (IWA):

"1. Either by provocation or by apology... [anyone who has] encouraged one or several persons in committing either a stealing, or the crimes of murder, looting or arson...; 2. Or has addressed a provocation to military from the Army or the Navy, in the aim of diverting them from their military duties and the obedience due to their chiefs... will be deferred before courts and punished by a prison sentence of three months to two years.[2]

Thus, free speech and encouraging propaganda of the deed or antimilitarism was severely restricted. Some people were condemned to prison for rejoicing themselves of the 1894 assassination of French president Sadi Carnot by the Italian anarchist Caserio. The Trial of the Thirty took place in 1894, at the issue of which almost all the defendants were acquitted. The term of lois scélérates has since entered popular language to design any harsh or injust laws, in particular anti-terrorism legislation which often broadly represses the whole of the social movements.

The United Kingdom quickly became the last haven for political refugees, in particular anarchists, who were all conflated with the few who had engaged in bombings. Already, the First International had been founded in London in 1871, where Karl Marx had taken refuge. But in the 1890s, the Kingdom became a nest for anarchist colonies expelled from the continent, in particular between 1892 and 1895, which marked the height of the repression. Louise Michel, aka "the Red Virgin", Émile Pouget or Charles Matato were the most famous of the many, anonymous anarchists, desertors or simple criminals who had fled France and other European countries. A lot of them returned to France after President Félix Faure's amnesty in February 1895.

A few hundreds persons related to the anarchist movement would however remain in the UK between 1880 and 1914. The right of asylum was a British tradition since the Reformation in the 16th century. However, it would progressively erode itself, and the French immigrants met with hostility. Several hate campaigns would be issued in the British press in the 1890s against these French exilees, relayed by riots and a "restrictionist" party which advocated the end of liberality concerning freedom of movement, and hostility towards French and international activists[3]

Could the Kingdom continue to provide haven for activists which did not confine themselves to opposition in one single country, but which travel from country to country, theorizing in International Revolution? Thus, strong debates began to shake the island, which finally decided to restrict freedom of movement. Thus were created one of the first immigration control laws. In a wholly different context, the same kind of debate would be lifted at the end of the 20th century, with the resurgence of international terrorism, this time under the guise of Islamic terrorism.

International conventions related to terrorism and counter-terrorism cases

Terrorism has been on the international agenda since 1934, when the League of Nations, predecessor of the United Nations, began the elaboration of a convention for the prevention and punishment of terrorism.[4] Although the Convention was eventually adopted in 1937, it never came into force.

Today, there are thirteen counter-terrorism international conventions in force. They were developed under the auspices of the United Nations and its specialized agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Moreover, on 8 September 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted a "Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy"[5]

Conventions open to all states

  • 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
  • 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
  • 1963 Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft (Tokyo Convention)
  • 1970 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (Hague Convention)
  • 1971 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation (Sabotage Convention or Montreal Convention)
  • 1979 Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (Nuclear Materials Convention)
  • 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation
  • 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation
  • 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf
  • 1991 Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection
  • 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings.
  • 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism
  • 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism
  • 2010 Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation (Beijing Convention)
  • 2010 Protocol Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (Beijing Protocol)

A 16th international convention, a proposed Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, is currently under negotiations.

Security Council Resolutions

Regional conventions


Commonwealth of Independent States

  • Treaty on Cooperation among States Members of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Combating Terrorism (Minsk, June 1999)

The Americas

  • Convention to Prevent and Punish Acts of Terrorism Taking the Form of Crimes Against Persons and Related Extortion that are of International Significance (Washington, D.C. February 1971)
  • AG/RES. 1840 (XXXII-O/02) (Bridgetown, June 2002)


  • the Protocol to that Convention, Addis Ababa July 2004) [as of 30 August 2005 the Protocol was not yet in force]


  • SAARC Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism (Kathmandu, November 1987)
  • Additional Protocol to the Convention, Islamabad, January 2004 [As of 30 August 2005 not yet in force].
  • The ASEAN Convention On Counter Terrorism, Cebu, Philippines, 13 January 2007 [In force from 27 May 2011, on 22 January 2013 all ASEAN members signed the ACCT]

League of Arab States

  • Arab Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism (Cairo, April 1998)

Organization of the Islamic Conference

  • Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism (Ouagadougou, July 1999)

Anti-terrorist legislation in the European Union

European Union

  • EU Framework Decision on Terrorism

European Court of Human Rights cases related to anti-terrorist legislation

  • Anna Maroufidou v. Sweden - 1981
  • ECHR 24 (29 November 1988)


  • Belgium Anti-Terrorism Act 2003


France has passed a variety of anti-terrorist laws, the first of which being the 19th century lois scélérates restricting freedom of expression. Today, magistrates in the Justice Ministry anti-terrorism unit have authority to detain people suspected of "conspiracy in relation to terrorism" while evidence is gathered against them.[9]



Italy passed various anti-terrorist laws during the "years of lead" (anni di piombo) in the 1970s.

The Reale Act was adopted on 22 May 1975. It allowed the police to carry out searches and arrest persons without being mandated by an investigative judge. Interrogation could take place without the presence of a lawyer. Critics underlined that this contradicted article 3 of the Constitution on equality before the law.[10]

Preventive detention was fixed before 1970 to two years, for a possible sentence going between 20 years to perpetuity, while it was limited to one year for charges of crimes leading to a sentence of less than 20 years. It passed to four years after 1970. A decree-law of 11 April 1974 authorized a four years detention until the first judgment, six years until the appeal, and eight years until the definitive judgment. In case of indictment for "acts of terrorism," the preventive detention was extended to twelve years.[10]

The Cossiga decree-law was passed on 15 December 1979. It prolonged the length of preventive detention relative to terrorism suspicions and allowed wiretaps. Critics have pointed out that this violated articles 15 and 27 of the Constitution.[10] The Cossiga decree-law also created the status of pentito (officially "collaborators of justice"): those accused of terrorism crimes and who accepted of confessing them and of informing the authorities about their accomplices could be liberated.

Law n°191 of May 21, 1978, called "Moro law", and law n°15 of February 6, 1980 were ratifications by the Assembly of decrees of emergency enacted by the executive power, respectively on March 28, 1978 and on December 15, 1979[11]

United Kingdom

Anti-terrorism legislation in common law countries (other than the UK)


The Civil Rights Network opposes such legislation. Elizabeth Evatt, a federal judge, has criticized John Howard's 2005 anti-terrorism bill, particularly provisions relating to control orders and preventive detention, saying that "These laws are striking at the most fundamental freedoms in our democracy in a most draconian way."[12]



New Zealand



  • Suppression of Terrorist Activities Ordinance, 1975 enacted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.[15] The law remained in force in the Sindh Province and the Punjab Province until its repeal in 1997,[15] and remained the law in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan until August 2001.[15]
  • 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act, signed on August 17, 1997 by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.[16][17] The law, which included a broad definition of "terrorism", was enacted after a January 1997 bombing by Mehram Ali, a member of the Shia militant organization Tehrik Nifaz Fiqh-i-Jafaria (TNFJ).[15] The Anti-Terrorism Act created specials Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) as well as an Anti-Terrorism Appellate (ATA) Tribunal.[15] Merham Ali was subsequently tried before those special courts, but made an appeal to the Supreme Court, which confirmed his death sentence, but declared most of the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional.[15]
  • 24 October 1998 Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance issued by Nawaz Sharif's government to respond to most of the Supreme Court's objections.[15] According to political scientist Charles H. Kennedy, "Special Anti-Terrorism courts remained in place but the judges of such courts were granted tenure of office (two years, later extended to two and one-half years); the special Appellate Tribunals were disbanded, appeals against the decisions of the Anti-Terrorism courts would henceforth be to the respective High Courts; and restrictions were placed on the earlier act’s provisions regarding trial in absentia to accord with regular legal procedures.".[15]
  • which exposed to a penalty of 7 firm prison years. The ordinance defined "civil commotion" as
"creation of internal disturbances in violation of law or intended to violate law, commencement or continuation of illegal strikes, go-slows, lock-outs, vehicle snatching/lifting, damage to or destruction of State or private property, random firing to create panic, charging bhatha

[protection money/extortion], acts of criminal trespass, distributing, publishing or pasting of a handbill or making graffiti

or wall-chalking intended to create unrest or fear or create a threat to the security of law and order..."[15]
  • 30 January 1999: the Pakistan Armed Forces Ordinance of 1998 is extended to the whole country.[15] It was also amended to enable "absconders" from justice to be tried in absentia by any military court.[15] The opposition filed many constitutional petitions challenging the validity of the ordinance, resulting in Liaquat Hussain versus Federation of Pakistan issued on 22 February 1999. The Supreme Court declared the ordinance “unconstitutional, without legal authority, and with no legal effect.”.[15] It rejected Nawaz Sharif's claim that the ordinance was temporary and limited to Sindh Province.[15]
  • 27 April 1999: repeal of the Armed Forces (Acting in Aid of Civil Power) ordinance. However, "civil commotion" is included as a crime under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997.[15]
  • 27 August 1999: amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act, authorizing ATC (Anti Terrorism Court) in all of the country.[15]

South Africa

  • South African Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967

United Kingdom

  • Prevention of Terrorism Act (Northern Ireland), 1974–89
  • Terrorism Act 2000
  • Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (the Racial and Religious Hatred Act was supposed to be part of it as provisions, but it was dropped)
  • The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 is intended to deal with the Law Lords' ruling of 16 December 2004, that the detention without trial of nine foreigners at HM Prison Belmarsh under Part IV of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was unlawful, being incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. It was given Royal Assent on 11 March 2005. The Act allows the Home Secretary to impose "control orders" on people he suspects of involvement in terrorism, which in some cases may derogate (opt out) from human rights laws. In April 2006, a High Court judge issued a declaration that section 3 of the Act was incompatible with the right to a fair trial under article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Act was described by Mr Justice Sullivan as an 'affront to justice'. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, JUSTICE and Liberty have opposed it. Criticism of the Act included complaints about the range of restrictions that could be imposed, the use of closed proceedings and special advocates to hear secret evidence against the detainee, and the possibility that evidence against detainees may include evidence obtained in other countries by torture.
  • The Terrorism Act 2006 increased the limit of pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects to 28-days after a rebellion by Labour MPs. Originally, the Government, and Prime Minister Tony Blair, had pushed for a 90-day detention period, but this was reduced to 28-days after a vote in the House of Commons. Home Office Minister Damian Green announced on 20 January 2011 that the period would revert to 14 days as the order extending the period to 28 days would be allowed to lapse at midnight on 24 January.
  • The Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008[18] would have controversially increased the limit of pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects for 42 days. This measure was dropped from the bill after it failed to win approval in the House of Lords.

Terrorism Prevention & Investigation Measures bill received a royal assent on 14 December 2011.

United States



Anti-terrorism legislation in civil law countries


Human Rights Watch has criticized the Chilean government for inappropriately using anti-terrorist legislation against indigenous (Mapuche) groups involved in land conflicts. While the legislation in question was originally enacted by the Pinochet dictatorship, the democratic governments that have followed have actually increased its severity. Human Rights Watch has expressed special concern that the current version of the law lists arson as a “terrorist” offence. This has allowed the application of the law against Mapuche vandals. While recognizing that crimes have certainly been committed, the international organization believes that they are not comparable to terrorist acts.[19]

El Salvador

El Salvador, presided by Antonio Saca of the right-wing ARENA party, had adopted in September 2006 an anti-terrorist law. All major parties, including the FMLN, have criticized the law, claiming it could be used against social movements[20]

The government first attempted to use the law against illegal street vendors who violently resisted removal by the police. These charges did not result in convictions.

In July 2007, the Salvadoran government charged fourteen people with acts of terrorism for their participation and/or association with a demonstration against privatization of the nation's water system. Charges were dismissed against one of those arrested. The remainder, known as the Suchitito 13, were released, but continued to face charges under the Special Law Against Terrorist Acts.[21][22] The charges were reduced to "disorderly conduct" in early February 2008 and then completely dropped later in the month.


Peru adopted anti-terrorist laws in 1992, under Alberto Fujimori's presidency. The laws were criticized by Amnesty International, who declared in its 2002 report that "Detainees falsely charged with “terrorism-related” offences in previous years remained held. “Anti-terrorism” legislation which had resulted in unfair trials since its introduction in 1992 remained in force. Members of the security forces accused of human rights violations continued to have their cases transferred to military courts.".[23] Lori Berenson, a US citizen serving a 20 years prison term in Peru, has been condemned in virtue of these laws, on charges of collaboration with the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.


The Human Security Act of 2007, signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and effective since July 2007, officially aimed at tackling militants in the southern Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf group, which has links to al Qaeda and has been blamed for bombings and kidnappings in the region.[24]

Under the law, 3 days warrantless detention are authorized,[24] although arresting officers are obliged to immediately inform a judge about the arrest.[24] Furthermore, detained terrorists are entitled to see a lawyer, a priest, a doctor, or family members.[24] The law allows eavesdropping on suspects[25] as well as access to bank accounts for authorities.[24] Convictions could result in 40 years prison sentences, but compensations are provided for in case of miscarriage of justice.[24][25] Terrorism was defined by Section 3 as "sowing and creating a condition of widespread and extraordinary fear and panic among the populace in order to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand",[25] a formulation criticized by Wilson Fortaleza, national president and third nominee of the labor party-list group Sanlakas, who claimed the law could be used to crush political dissent.[25]


Following the October 2002 Bali bombings Indonesia adopted Government Regulation in Lieu of Law 1/2002. Under the Indonesian legal system, a Government Regulation in Lieu of Law has the same power as a parliament-enacted legislation, except that it can only be issued under emergency circumstances and is subject to review by the next parliamentary session. Nevertheless, Indonesian Parliament enacted this emergency regulation into Law 15/2003. As since, Indonesia has an anti-terror legislation with strong political support. The Anti Terror Law cultivates many criticism, however. The Law contained provisions which can circumvent normal criminal proceeding such as quick and long detention. One of the main contentious provision of the Law is that it allows Intelligence Information to be used as a preliminary evidence that can be used for apprehending a suspect. The role of Intelligegence Information as evidence has been a subject of hot debate in Indonesia[26]


Template:See Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law (Law 3713; April 1991), slightly amended in 1995 and later repealed,[27] imposed three-year prison sentences for "separatist propaganda." Despite its name, the Anti-Terror Law punished many non-violent offences.[28] Pacifists have been imprisoned under Article 8. For example, publisher Fatih Tas was prosecuted in 2002 under Article 8 at Istanbul State Security Court for translating and publishing writings by Noam Chomsky, summarizing the history of the human rights of Kurdish people in Turkey; he was acquitted, however, in February 2002.[28]

State Security Courts were transformed into Heavy Penal Courts following June 2004 reforms to the 1982 Constitution, enacted following the 1980 military coup.

As of 2008, detainees arrested under the Anti-Terror Law have access to lawyers at the very beginning of their detention.[29]

See also


External links

  • British Foreign Office, October 2005 - this report outlines current anti-terrorism legislation in ten democratic nations, including the United States, Canada, Australia and a portion of Europe.
  • Human Rights First: In Pursuit of Justice; Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts (2009)
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