Britain and Russia plan to jointly introduce a Security Council resolution today urging countries to ban the incitement of terrorist acts, and they hope world leaders will adopt the high-profile measure during a U.N. summit in September.
Supporters say the measure could help stem hate speech and rein in inflammatory media, and would address international terrorism while a more comprehensive global treaty on the matter languishes at the U.N. But human rights groups and others are concerned that a vague definition of “incitement” could lead to overzealous restriction of free speech and the right to political asylum.
The resolution also calls on all countries to deny safe haven to those who engage in incitement. Although previous counterterrorism resolutions have created committees to monitor terrorist networks, freeze their financing and remove their protection, the new measure attempts to stop the seeds of hate from germinating, its sponsors say.
“When someone gives the floor to terrorists, he must also be responsible for the possible fallout, because it is not just someone’s view, but a chance for a terrorist to use the podium to propagate violence,” said Russian Ambassador Andrey Denisov. “Terrorism must not be seen as just a political act, but as a social and political phenomenon which must be addressed. It is a broader way to look at terrorism and combat it.”
In the wake of violent incidents such as the bombing of London’s transportation network last month and the deadly takeover of a school by Chechen separatists last year, both Britain and Russia have been searching for ways to counter the growth of terrorist networks.
In response to the July 7 London bombings, British Home Secretary Charles Clarke unveiled tough new deportation guidelines last week allowing the ejection of any noncitizen who foments terrorist violence. The new rules are aimed at radical preachers, and show a fading tolerance for sermons, pamphlets and websites that “foster hatred or promote terrorism” that were until recently protected as free speech.
But human rights advocates worry that such broad attempts to strangle nascent terrorism also suffocate civil liberties, and warn that a careful balance must be maintained.
“Of greatest concern is the term ‘incitement,’ ” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program. “What constitutes incitement? Is incitement calling for direct acts of violence, or is it articles explaining why terrorists do what they do?”
The Russians and British are hoping for a “presidential resolution,” meaning that all 15 members of the Security Council back the measure. They plan to hold a special Security Council session on terrorism next month while heads of state and government are in New York for a World Summit, and want the leaders of council nations to adopt the resolution in a high-profile vote.
Washington is largely supportive of the resolution, said Richard A. Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
In the meantime, negotiations are continuing on the most contentious portions of a U.N. reform document that more than 180 world leaders are expected to endorse during the summit.
On Monday, a core group of about two dozen ambassadors discussed a counter-terrorism treaty that has been stalled for years amid disputes over how to define terrorism.
The current language defines terrorism as the harming of non-soldiers in an attempt to intimidate or induce action by a government or organization. But many nations, mostly Arab countries, insist that any means to fight occupation is justified, even if it involves harming civilians.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton sent a letter to his fellow ambassadors Monday staking out the U.S. position on the terrorism treaty.
The U.S. suggests retaining the originally proposed definition of terrorism. But if that proves to be a sticking point, the U.S. amendment offers a way around the controversial language with a sentence condemning terrorism without explicitly defining who is a terrorist: “We affirm that the targeting and deliberate killing by terrorists of civilians and non-combatants cannot be justified or legitimized by any cause or grievance,” it says.
The passage excludes civilian deaths caused by militaries, saying that those regrettable but sometimes inevitable killings are covered by international humanitarian law. Some opponents criticize that proposal as allowing state-sponsored terrorism.
The proposal is one of hundreds the U.S. has offered just three weeks before the summit.