NEW YORK — The U.N. General Assembly approved a global treaty yesterday aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism by making it a crime for would-be terrorists to possess or threaten to use nuclear weapons or radioactive material.
A resolution adopted by the 191-member world body by consensus calls on all countries to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. The treaty will be opened for signatures on Sept. 14 and must be ratified by 22 countries to come into force.
?By its action today, the General Assembly has shown that it can, when it has the political will, play an important role in the global fight against terrorism,? U.S. Deputy Ambassador Stuart Holliday told delegates after the vote. ?The nuclear terrorism convention, when it enters into force, will strengthen the international legal framework to combat terrorism.?
Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Alexander Konuzin, whose country sponsored the resolution, hailed its approval.
?It’s the first time that an anti-terrorist convention has been developed on the basis of preventing — that is not after the fact but before the terrorist acts which are criminalized by this convention,? he said.
The treaty makes it a crime for any person to possess radioactive material or a radioactive device with the intent to cause death or injury, or damage property or the environment. It also would be a crime to damage a nuclear facility.
Threatening to use radioactive material or devices — or unlawfully demanding nuclear material or other radioactive substances also would be a crime. Accomplices and organizers also would be covered by the convention.
Countries that are parties to the treaty would be required to make these acts criminal offenses under their national laws, ?punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the grave nature of these offenses.?
Russia began the campaign for a treaty to combat nuclear terrorism more than seven years ago, when Boris Yeltsin was president. But it was stymied for years because countries thought the draft convention was trying to define terrorism — an issue that has deeply divided the United Nations.
Diplomats said the roadblock was broken after the drafting committee’s last formal meeting in November, when the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference decided the new treaty could focus on criminalizing specific actions related to nuclear terrorism as other anti-terrorism treaties have done.
The drafting committee then quickly agreed on a text on April 1, leaving the difficult issue of defining terrorism to a new overall convention on terrorism still under debate. The General Assembly has tried for years to define terrorism, so far unsuccessfully because of the argument that one nation’s terrorist can be another’s freedom fighter.