UN: Open letter from NGOs to the General Assembly regarding terrorism debate

The UN Security Council passed on Friday September 29th, 2001 (pm) Resolution no. 1373 (2001) which requires all states to take sweeping measures to 'combat' terrorism and opens the door to the use of force as one means of doing so.
On 1st October we posted an URGENT request for you to endorse a letter which was circulated by the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice for the International Criminal Court (ICC), New York. You can now read the Open Letter sent to all members of the UN General Assembly on Monday, 1 October, after the Security Council's rapid adoption of resolution 1373 on international cooperation to combat threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.

As you may recall, a sign-on letter was circulated immediately after the Security Council adopted the resolution to raise awareness of some of the problematic aspects of the resolution, including the fact that it leaves "terrorism" undefined but requires sweeping actions on the part of states to combat terrorism. The letter raised the concerns about potential for abuse by some governments as a result of the open-endedness of the resolution and the particular vulnerability of refugees and asylum-seekers.

Many signed on to the petition in a very short period of time which was sent to the General Assembly and members of the media.

Some states, such as Malaysia, also pointed out some of the problems with the resolution and the potential for abuse of its provisions while simultaneously concurring with the need to take concrete steps to address terrorism. For a summary of each country's intervention at the high-level debate, please see www.reachingcriticalwill.org/1com/terror.html

1-2 October 2001, United Nations

We are writing to express our profound concern about Security Council resolution 1373 (2001). While some aspects of the resolution, which was hurriedly debated and passed on September 28, 2001, are necessary and appropriate to address terrorist acts, certain aspects of the resolution give cause for concern. We urge that the members of the General Assembly consider carefully the implications of resolution 1373 and work to clarify certain aspects of the resolution.

1. Terrorism undefined invites abuse

First among our concerns is that the resolution details sweeping measures to combat terrorism without defining what terrorism is. In light of the differing opinions among the international community as to what constitutes terrorism, we are extremely concerned that the open-endedness of the resolution is vulnerable to abuse.

We are particularly concerned that parts of the resolution could be used to justify:

– Independent actions by states, acting singly or in concert but outside the direction and command of the United Nations, against alleged perpetrators of terrorism and/or states allegedly supporting such acts (Preamble para 5 and para 3 ( c ));

– Serious curtailment of civil, political and human rights of citizens and persons, in particular, refugees, immigrants and other individuals presumed to have such status or be from targeted minority groups (para 3 (f & g)).

2. Justice not vengeance and war

A critical question -- for which history will hold the United Nations accountable and judge the efficacy of its mission -- is whether the world community will endorse the use of force rather than the processes of justice and the rule of law. The world community is poised to usher into being, for the first time in history, an International Criminal Court. The ultimate goal of such Court is to try the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and other international crimes. The approval of the Rome Treaty and the speed with which states are ratifying that treaty attests to the importance of substituting justice for force as a primary means to ensure peace and security.

History has demonstrated that to meet violence with violence rather than the rule of law perpetuates the cycle of violence. By contrast, the hope of this new millennium is that justice can substitute for violence and thus break that deadly cycle. To those who committed the September 11 attack, the authorization of a violent response is precisely the victory they seek. By contrast, those who condemn this barbarous act must defy those expectations and stand for justice, and through justice, the restoration of peace and respect for the rule of law.

As many of our organizations represent the rights and needs of women, we must insist upon the fact that the most numerous victims of war are the women and children. They represent the overwhelming majority of those amassed now at the borders of Afghanistan; it is the women and children who are the majority of the civilian population murdered, raped and otherwise brutalized in time of war.

The response to such threats as represented by September 11 must give primacy to the rule of law and be vested in an international body such as the United Nations and not in individual nations or collectivities of nations. We therefore call on the members of the General Assembly to set precedents in the interpretation of the Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) and pass a declaration qualifying the interpretation of the Security Council resolution as follows:

– it does not sanction the use of force and repressive measures to combat terrorism

– it primarily seeks justice in international and domestic courts for acts of international terrorism

– it calls upon states to be guided by principles and processes of international law in their pursuit of justice, including the detailing of charges, the issuance of international warrants and requests for extradition, the arrest of the accused and the provision of due process

– it lays emphasis on states becoming parties to, implementing and using the international conventions on prevention and combating of terrorism

– emphasizes the need to ensure that all actions taken to identify, prevent and punish terrorism are consistent with the protection of political and civil rights, including the prevention of discrimination and protection of minorities.

While passing resolutions aimed at maintaining or restoring international peace and security is the primary responsibility of the Security Council, it is a responsibility that must be discharged with utmost care and diligence ensuring that such actions do not pose a further threat to the international community.

The United Nations was founded to save succeeding generations from the 'scourge of war.' In carrying out its responsibilities to maintain or restore international peace and security at this moment in time, the Security Council must find the appropriate balance between measures which will truly address this heinous form of violence and those which will exacerbate and perpetuate the breach of international peace and security.

The General Assembly at crucial moments in the history of the United Nations has taken important steps in the absence of Security Council action or to clarify counsel action. We urge all member states to take the above into consideration during the debates on terrorism taking place Monday and Tuesday, October 1-2. At this critical moment, it is necessary that the General Assembly carefully reflect on its own important role in the maintenance of international peace and security.


- Women's Caucus for Gender Justice

- Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

- International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic, New York

- Shirkat Gah, Women's Resource Centre, Pakistan

- Charlotte Bunch, Center for Women's Global Leadership, U.S.

- Vivian Stromberg, Madre, New York

- Anissa Helie-Lucas, Women Living Under Muslim Laws

- Women in Black, London

- Gabi Mischowski, Medica Mondiale, Koeln, Germany

- Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan

- S.Curt, Wendy, Caitlin, Ray Schroell, Radio4Houston.org

- Radhika Balakrishnan, Marymount Manhattan College NY, NY

- Maria Pakpahan, Tjoet Njak Dien Yogyakarta, Indonesia

- Giancarlo Livragh, ALCEI, Electronic Frontiers Italy

- Prof. Dr. Ilse Lenz, Bochum University, Germany

- Greg Tzeutschler, Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, New York, NY

- Hameeda Hossain, Ain o Salish Kendro (ASK)

- Amrita Chhachhi, Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands

- Shulamith Koenig, People's Movement for Human Rights Education, New York

- Gloria Frankel, Chair, Irish Section, WILPF

- Diane Alley, National Convener, UNAA Status of Women Network

- Svetlana Slapsak, Ljubljana, Slovenia

- Sigrid Shreeve, Oxford for Peace

- Ana Stella Borras de Ortiz, FUNDACION CAMINO, Argentina

- Laura E. Asturias, Editor, Tertulia e-zine, Guatemala

- Shanthi Dairiam, International Women's Rights Action Watch-Asia Pacific

- Mta. Teresa C. Ulloa Ziaurriz, Popular Defenders, C.A.

- Victoria da Silva, Electoral Institute of Southern Africa

- Collective Struggling for Women in Jail, Mexico

- Angela M. Kuga Thas, Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women

- Jennie Green, Staff Attorney, Center for Constitutional Rights

- Iraqi Al-Amal Association, Iraq

- Jan Slakov, President, Enviro-Clare,

- The Australian National Commitee on Refugee Women (ANCORW)

- Istvan Balogh, Senior Editor Emeritus, Radio Free Europe

- Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Hunter College of the City University of New York

- Uma Narayan, Vassar College

- Paul Swann, Global Peace Campaign

- Antonia Macias, Equipo Nizkor

- Maria Eugenia Solis, La Cuerda" Guatemalan Feminist Organization

- Ceeplbr Center for Environmental Education and Protection

- Clare Nolan, NGO Representative, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, Brooklyn, NY

- UNAA Status of Women Network

- Youth Coordination Center International

- Asian Resource Foundation

- Asian Muslim Action Network

- APC Women's Networking Support Programme

- Strawberry Net Foundation, Romania

- Oxford Petition for Peace

- Ana Stella Borras de Ortiz, FUNDACION CAMINO, ARGENTINA

- Karen Banks, GreenNet Limited/GreenNet Educational Trust, England

- Penny Gray, The Oxford Stop the War Coalition

- Foundation for Media Alternatives, Philippines

- Meredith Tax, President, Women's World Organization for Rights, Literature and Development

- Virginia Vargas, Centro Flora Tristan, Lima

- Laura E. Asturias, Editor, Tertulia e-zine, Guatemala

- Kelly Askin, Professor, George Washington University

- Rosalyn Baxandall- Prof and Chair American Studies, SUNY, Old Westbury
Women's Caucus for Gender Justice
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