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The UN and the Terrorism Trade

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."