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Interview with Gertraude Kabelka on the new convention on the prevention of terrorism

Strasbourg, 15 March 2005

The new draft convention on the prevention of terrorism, to be examined by the Council of Europe´s Interior Ministers in Warsaw this week, covers gaps that were identified in present anti-terror law and practice. The CODEXTER experts group, chaired by Gertraude Kabelka (Austria), suggests criminalising three different areas of activities: the first is public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, the second is recruitment for terrorism and the third is training. States that ratify the convention give a commitment to change their laws along these lines.

Question: Why is the new Convention necessary ?

Gertraude Kabelka: The Council of Europe committed itself to fight terrorism some time ago: there has been a convention on the suppression of terrorism since 1977. Of course, the events of 9/11 gave new impetus to this work, with the Committee of Ministers pledging an “immediate and firm response”. An amending protocol to the 1977 convention was drawn up, and after that work started on additional and new ways to counteract terrorism. Our CODEXTER group of experts was given the task of reviewing the existing legal network, and we earmarked a number of gaps in law and practice. On this basis we embarked on drafting the convention and CODEXTER agreed on the text at the beginning of March. The draft will now be examined by the Council of Europe’s Interior Ministers at their conference on 17 and 18 March in Warsaw, then it will be submitted to the Committee of Ministers for adoption. We hope it will be amongst the treaties that will be opened for signature at the Council’s Warsaw Summit in May.

Question: What impact will the new Convention have?

Question: The Convention takes the whole process back a stage – looking at what governments can do to stop action that leads to terrorism. It is an attempt to counter acts preparatory to terrorism through an international treaty. We are suggesting to criminalising three different areas of activities: the first is public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, the second is recruitment for terrorism and the third is training. States that ratify the convention give a commitment to change their laws along these lines.

Question: These are very specific issues. Can you tell us more about your reasoning?

Question: These issues cover gaps we identified in present law and practice. We have had a long and thorough discussion about them, and the way we have drafted the convention reflects some of the debate going on in society at present, because we are always bound to strike a balance between the fight against terrorism on the one hand and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the other hand. For instance, criminalising the act of provoking terrorism touches on freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as freedom of expression, and these are rights guaranteed by the European Human Rights Convention. We are therefore very precise about what would constitute a criminal act: the message has to be public and there has to be an intent to incite the commission of terrorist offences. For instance, this could be by distributing pamphlets, through an advertisement or on the Internet. When it comes to recruitment, you have to prove that the recruiter is trying to get people to carry out a terrorist offence, and the same goes for training. The trainers must be shown to have the criminal intent that the skills he provided will be used to commit terrorist offences. It is the recruiters and trainers who will be criminalised – not the people they draw in.