UN Adopts Nuclear Terrorism Convention; Treaty Seven Years in the Making

By Applegarth, Claire | Arms Control Today, May 2005 | Go to article overview

UN Adopts Nuclear Terrorism Convention; Treaty Seven Years in the Making


Applegarth, Claire, Arms Control Today


The UN General Assembly April 13 adopted an international convention addressing the threat of nuclear terrorism, bringing an end to more than seven years of negotiations on the document. The treaty criminalizes the possession, use, or threat of use of radioactive devices by nonstate actors, their accomplices, and organizers "with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury" or environmental or property damage.

Originally proposed by Russia in 1998 and entrusted to the oversight of an ad hoc committee established to tackle the issue of international terrorism, the convention, titled the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, is now the 13th such UN legal instrument on terrorism and the first concluded since Sept. 11, 2001. It was adopted by consensus and will open for signature Sept. 14 during the 60th Anniversary Summit of the United Nations. It will enter into force after 22 governments have ratified it.

Beyond criminalizing acts of nuclear terrorism, the convention also will require governments either to prosecute terrorist suspects in domestic courts or extradite them to their home countries. It further encourages increased exchanges of information and greater cooperation between countries in the pursuit of terrorist suspects.

In a brief mention of preventative nuclear security measures, the treaty urges states to ensure the protection of radioactive materials, "taking into account" recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The convention also classifies as a punishable offense any attacks on nuclear facilities that could risk the release of radioactive material.

Although widely welcomed as an important contribution to the international legal framework governing terrorism and nuclear security, the agreed treaty text does not represent as ambitious a document as some nations had hoped. In an April 1 news conference, Albert Hoffman, the South African coordinator of the negotiations, said that a number of proposals were ultimately excluded from the treaty's scope so as to facilitate its universal adoption. …

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UN Adopts Nuclear Terrorism Convention; Treaty Seven Years in the Making
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