Compensation of victims of terrorism sounds like a good idea. But is this something the United Nations should be involved with?
Fresh from the Guardian newspaper comes a dispatch headlined “UN moves to compensate the victims of terror: Report will recommend far-reaching changes to rebalance international law in favor of those who have suffered.”
The report in question, details of which have apparently leaked to the British press, is the work of the UN’s special rapporteur for counter-terrorim and human rights, British lawyer Ben Emmerson. In it, according to the Guardian, Emmerson proposes a global overhaul of insurance policies, to provide for compensation to victims and next of kin, in the event of terrorist attacks. This coverage would affect everything from travel to medical to life insurance, including “as appropriate, restitution, compensation and rehabilitation.” The Guardian article notes that this report, if accepted by the relevant UN bodies, would entail a system in which all UN member states would adopt a uniform set of standards for compensating victims of terrorism.
There’s plenty to be said for the idea that justice should be done. In this regard the Guardian cites the case of a British citizen, Will Pike, wounded in the 2008 Islamist terrorist attack on Mumbai.
But the prospect of the UN hashing out such a system is not one that augurs justice. Emmerson, as rapporteur, works under the aegis of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. His report is due to be presented to the Human Rights Council on June 20, and then to the General Assembly in New York, on June 28th.
What’s wrong with that? Well, for starters, there’s the question of how the UN defines terrorism, which at the moment it doesn’t do at all. The UN has yet to produce a comprehensive definition of terrorism — the sticking point being that some member states prefer a definition that would excuse the likes of Hamas or Hezbollah terrorists as being not terrorists at all, but “freedom fighters.”
The Human Rights Council is a body more zealously devoted to chronic criticism of democratic Israel than condemnation of major human rights offenders — some of which hold seats on the Council (for instance, Cuba, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia). This same Human Rights Council is effectively a ward of the 193-member General Assembly, where a similar bias prevails.
Add to that the problem that the UN over the years has proven eager to get involved in quite a number of issues where it then becomes a bureaucratic toll collector — providing services as an erstwhile “neutral” monitor, or arbiter, while substantially protected from public scrutiny by its immunities, far-flung cross-border operations, and byzantine, eye-glazing procedures.
More immediately, consider that this is the same UN that despite its vast array of inspectors, peace-keepers, rapporteurs, monitors, special envoys, and so forth, has failed to stop the carnage of the Syrian regime, failed to stop the nuclear pursuits of Iran and North Korea, failed to stop the rearming of Hezbollah in Lebanon, failed to stop the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, and tolerated such stuff as one of its own under-secretaries, Sha Zukang, presenting an award two years ago to the Chinese general who was operational commander of the troops during the crushing of the 1989 protests centered in Tiananmen Square.
Also, there is the huge matter that terrorist attacks in our time have largely been acts of war, not simply criminal offenses. That need not obviate the rights of victims to seek redress via the courts. But there is the danger here that a UN system of global “compensation” would become a fig leaf for trying to shovel terrorism, generally, toward the courts.
As it now stands, the UN has no definition of terrorism, but it appears ready to dabble in the flows of money that might attend upon redress for terrorist atrocities.There may be plenty that individual governments, or coalitions of the decent, can do, if they are willing, both to help victims of terrorism, and deter practitioners of terrorism from doing more of it. But to funnel such efforts through the UN is a losing game.