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Global Terrorism: Rethinking International Health Laws and Regulations

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Global Terrorism at present appears to be inclined towards networks of international terrorists who are loosely organized and self-financed. Increased incidences are seen of groups using religion as a pretext and posing as threats to global security. Recently, there is apparent escalation of cross-national linkages among different terrorist groups. These liaisons include a combination of military training, funding, and technology conveyance. Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is a notable concern in terrorist activities, with state sponsorships a complicated issue (Perl, 2007).

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As terrorism is a global phenomenon, a major challenge facing policymakers is how to maximize international cooperation and support without unduly compromising important national security interests and options. In the US, policy toward international terrorism is leaned towards military intervention such as seen in U.S. operations in the Middle East (Perl, 2007).

Existing International Health Laws and Regulations Governing Global Terrorism

Since 1963, the international community has formulated a variety of legal instruments to prevent occurrences of terrorist acts. These instruments were developed under the guidance of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). All member states are encouraged to participate in policy development (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d).

These legal mandates are wide ranging and cover possible terrorism activities including civil aviation hijacking, crimes against international staff, taking hostages, usage of nuclear material, maritime offences, explosive materials, bombings, financing of terrorism and nuclear terrorism (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d). Specific examples of these legal instruments are as follows:

  • The 1973 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons covers protection mandates for international staff. It defines an “internationally protected person” as a Head of State, Minister for Foreign Affairs, representative or official of a State or international organization who is entitled to special protection in a foreign State, and his/her family. This instrument allows punishments for attacks on international staff. (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d).
  • The 1979 International Convention against the Taking of Hostages is another instrument that has provisions regarding hostages. It states that “any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or to continue to detain another person in order to compel a third party, namely, a State, an international intergovernmental organization, a natural or juridical person, or a group of persons, to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage commits the offence of taking of hostage within the meaning of this Convention” (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d).
  • The 1991 Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection Instrument defines and expounds regulations regarding explosive materials. It is designed to control and limit the usage of unmarked and undetectable plastic explosives. This legal instrument mandates member states to take measures to prohibit and prevent and control the production of unmarked plastic explosives (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d).
  • The 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings on the other hand is an instrument that expounds on terroristic bombings incidents. This instrument defines universal jurisdiction over the unlawful and intentional use of explosives and similar devices in various defined public places with intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury, or with intent to cause extensive destruction of the public place (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d).
  • The 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism is an instrument that includes provisions regarding the financing aspect of terrorism. It requires member states or parties to implement measures to prevent and counteract the financing of terrorists, whether direct or indirect. It has provisions for the identification, freezing and seizure of monetary resources allocated for terrorist activities, as well as for the sharing of the forfeited funds with other States on a case-by-case basis. On notable feature of this legal instrument is that bank secrecy cannot be used as counter in information acquisition for proven terrorist entities (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d).

The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy 

On the 8th of September in 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. This is a unique global instrument that aims to enhance national, regional and international measures and efforts to counter terrorism. Its adoption marked the first time that all Member States have agreed to a united and common strategic and operational approach to combat terrorism. It also announces to the world that that terrorism is absolutely unacceptable in all its forms and manifestation and that practical measure are being implemented to prevent and combat it. These concrete measures include a wide array of interventions ranging from bolstering state capacity to counter terrorist threats to promoting coordination among United Nations system’s counter-terrorism activities (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d). The Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy is composed of four pillars for intervention, which is as follows.

The first measure is a focus on addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. It is noted that prolonged unresolved conflicts, lack of enforcement of rule of law, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization, and lack of good governance are major contributors to fostering home grown terrorism. The United Nations and its member states pledge to utilize its strength for conflict prevention through negotiation, mediation, conciliation, judicial settlement, and to enforce rule of law and peace keeping and peace building. Initiatives and programs like public awareness programs are implemented to promote dialogue, tolerance and understanding among people with respect to culture and religion. As a complimentary initiative, measures to eradicate poverty and promote economic stability are utilized. National systems of assistance should be established which would aim to promote the needs of victims of terrorism and their families and facilitate normalizing their lives (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

The second focuses on measures to prevent and combat terrorism. Measures are implemented to prevent organization and conduction of terrorist units and training. Participation in extradition and prosecution process in accordance to national and international law of known agents or supporters of terrorism is likewise ensured. National efforts and bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international co-operation to improve border and customs controls are carried out in order to prevent and detect the movement of terrorists corresponding illicit traffic of weapons. Adoption of legislation and administrative measures to implement counter terrorism related obligations based on best practices in this area as per guidance of technical international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization, the World Customs Organization and the International Criminal Police Organization is encouraged. Planning and carrying out a response to actual terrorist activities including assistance delivery, relief operations and victim support is also a highlighted intervention (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

The third measure pertains to capacity building with regards to the States’ counterterrorism efforts with addendums on how the United Nations can help with this. It is recognized that capacity building in all States is a core element of the global counter-terrorism efforts. This measure includes ensuring that member states know the resources available to them in planning counter terrorism interventions. UN agencies work collaboratively with member states towards achieving this goal. A particular example would be the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee and its Executive Directorate which is tasked to improve the coherence and efficiency of technical assistance delivery in the field of counter-terrorism, in particular by strengthening its dialogue with States and relevant international, regional and sub-regional organizations and working closely, including by sharing information, with all bilateral and multilateral technical assistance providers (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

Lastly, the strategy entails measures to ensure respect for human rights and the rule of law. It is accepted that the promotion and protection of human rights for all and the rule of law is paramount to every component of the Strategy. Despite the seemingly conflicting goals. counterterrorism efforts if done properly do not infringe on basic human rights but is complementary and mutually enforcing. The UN and its member states affirm their role in implementing core international instruments on human rights law, refugee law and international humanitarian law (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism,n.d.).

Strategies to Combat Modern Global Terrorism

Democratic countries face a particular conundrum with regards to balancing the values ensuring that personal and social liberties are preserved whilst tightening security and preventing terroristic activities. A global trend towards deregulation, open borders, and enhanced open commerce make efforts to control terrorism convoluted. Ensuring that constitutional rights for freedom are not compromised by efforts to ensure safety from terrorism is a tight balancing act to some states (Perl, 2007).

Another challenge that presents is how to identify perpetrators of specific terrorist and associated persons who provide training, funding, or other types of support. As the international community increasingly shows its ability to agree and apply sanctions and penalties against “rogue” states, sponsor states will become more inclined to use covert means to support terrorist groups. To detect these covert measures, increased allocation of resources – both personnel and material – would have to be deployed which can be a complex matter in nations’ resource apportionment planning (Perl, 2007).

Counterterrorism efforts need to respond to the changes of current times. Terrorist activities have evolved both in tactics and ease of which it can spread. This evolving facet of terroristic activities suggests a need to move away from slow responsive, military- and law enforcement–based approaches to a long-term, preventive methodology based on social, political, and economic components (Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation, 2012).

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The United Nations has a particular advantage in spearheading efforts in global counterterrorism. It can act as a strategic leader, a convener, a capacity builder and a monitor. UN counterterrorism efforts can flourish by creating a broader movement against terrorism, involving not only states but also a range of other actors and by bolstering engagement in the field civil society. It also can place greater emphasis streamlining counterterrorism efforts by monitoring, political analysis, and capacity building (Center on Global Counterterrorism Cooperation, 2012).

In 2016, a general assembly upheld the Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. Terrorist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Qaida and Boko Haram are examples of groups that shaped the image of violent extremism. The message of intolerance — religious, cultural, social — conveyed by these groups have far reaching serious consequences globally. These factions leverage territory and use social media platforms to spread their odious ideals through real-time broadcast of their saboteur activities, thus challenging the values of peace, justice and human dignity (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.). The plan of action involves re-examining the different areas and conditions that foster violent extremism giving birth to terrorism.

Where conflict already persists, efforts to promote and sustain communication between warring parties should be done. Where military action becomes necessary to counter the expansion of violent extremist groups, responses that is enacted should be in full compliance with international law – in particular with the Charter of the United Nations, international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

Governments should embrace and implement international human rights norms and standards, ensure good governance to uphold the rule of law and eliminate corruption. Governing administrations should analyze all national legislation, policies, and strategies to ensure that practices are firmly grounded in deference for human rights and the rule of law. Non-discriminatory basic service provision should be fostered whilst ensuring accountability for service delivery. Services to remote areas should be ensured to create an environment of abundance and sustenance (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

Another approach is to encourage individuals already involved in extremist groups to leave by developing and offering programs that provides them with economic and educational opportunities. Opportunities should be adopted to introduce alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as arbitration and restorative justice. Religious leaders should be engaged and allowed to have a platform for intra- and interfaith dialogue and discussions. This is aimed to promote tolerance and understanding between communities and faith groups (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

A notable approach going forward would be tapping the potential of the youth. Young people are assets that must be empowered to make constructive contributions to the political and economic development of their societies and nations. Identifying tools with which to support young people as they take up the causes of peace, pluralism and mutual respect should be made a priority. Due to the rapid advancement of communications methods that the youth can easily utilize, they form a global community of unimaginable power. Violent extremists are already exploiting this interconnectivity and thus there is a need to reclaim the conversation by helping to intensify the voices of young people already promoting the values of mutual respect and peace to their peers (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d).

Another tactic would be to engage communities to annul support for terrorist groups. For their survival and success, violent extremists require the support of a wider circle of sympathizers. If deprived of this backing, their capacity to cause harm and evade justice will be greatly cut. Despite some communities distrusting governments especially in unstable countries, there are a number of community engagement strategies that can be implemented. Communities should be encouraged to adopt community-oriented policing models and programs which can help solve local issues. This method would increase awareness in the public and improve police understanding thus enhancing the ability of the community to be proactive and identify points of grievances and critical issues at an earlier stage. Establishing regional and global networks for civil society and organizations is also a significant mode (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

Peace cannot be sustained without empowering women. It is no coincidence that nations and societies where gender equality indicators are worse have increased incidences of violent extremism. Better promotion of women’s participation in leadership and governance leads to empowerment across all areas of society. Women empowerment strategies should be incorporated in in nation building planning and stratagems (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

In the fight against poverty and social marginalization, states need to ensure that every child is able to receive an education. Education should include lessons pertaining to respect for human rights and diversity and aimed at developing the behavioral and emotional skills that encourages peaceful coexistence and tolerance (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).


Violent extremism is becoming global and threatens to undermine our sense of humanity. A mixture of personal, societal and ideational factors can give arise to these terroristic activities which then poorly affect the lives of millions of people in different regions of the world (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).

There is not single concerted enforceable action that exists to solve this pervasive problem. Continued cooperation among nations is necessary to ensure that global agreements are enforced to prevent and control the spread of extremism (United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, n.d.).


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