UNITED NATIONS – U.N. (search) diplomats have revised their blueprint for reforming the world body to include a definition of terrorism, indicating nations are moving toward consensus on a contentious global issue.
World leaders are to consider the plan at their summit in September and, if approved, the definition could break the impasse over a comprehensive treaty against terrorism (search).
The United States strongly supports such a treaty, which has been stalled for years over the question of what constitutes a terrorist. The debate has focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the argument that one nation's terrorists are another's freedom fighters.
Jean Ping (search), president of the U.N. General Assembly avoided the topic of terrorism in a reform plan he drew up in early June, calling on governments to do more to alleviate poverty and ensure human rights.
His revised plan issued Friday would commit world leaders to adopting a comprehensive convention against terrorism by September 2006.
Ping's new blueprint not only gives a political definition of terrorism but spells out how two new U.N. bodies would be established; the Peacebuilding Commission to ensure countries emerging from conflict don't start fighting again and a Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Commission on Human Rights.
The Geneva-based commission has been criticized for allowing the worst-offending countries to use their membership to protect each other from condemnation for human rights abuses. The latest draft said members of the new council should be elected on the basis of regional balance and their contribution "to the promotion and protection of human rights."
The document also outlines a series of U.N. management reforms — a key U.S. demand — and elaborates on what to do to stop genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
The new draft would authorize the Security Council to take action to stop such atrocities "should peaceful means prove insufficient and national authorities be unwilling or unable to protect their populations.
"This is, of course, work in progress," said the Netherlands' U.N. Ambassador Dirk Jan van den Berg, who has been helping Ping find agreement among the 191 U.N. member states on a blueprint. "We think it constitutes an important step forward towards the preparation of the summit. It will not be the last version of the document."
The new draft would have world leaders affirm "that the targeting and deliberate killing of civilians and noncombatants cannot be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance." They would also affirm that any such action "to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to carry out or to abstain from any act cannot be justified on any ground and constitutes an act of terrorism."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan endorsed such a definition when he started the reform effort in March with his own proposals for a sweeping U.N. overhaul.
Ping's first draft of the final document used similar language — but left out the words "constitutes an act of terrorism."
U.N. members are still wrangling over reform of the powerful Security Council and several of Annan's proposals have been dropped because of deep differences, including principles for the use of force.
Nonetheless, David Shorr of the Washington-based Stanley Foundation, which organized a half-dozen programs on U.N. reform, said efforts by some countries to weaken the outcome of the summit have failed.
"Those who want the summit to succeed have protected some of the really important ideas on how the U.N. can be more effective," he said. "There is now real momentum for the world leaders to be changing the way things are done at the U.N. and delivering a round of reforms that are more significant than earlier attempts."