Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Defining Terrorism in Southeast Asia

By Rommel C. Banlaoi

Southeast Asia is not immune with the definitional problem of terrorism.  Immediately after 9/11, members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed on 5 November 2001 the Declaration on Joint Action to Counter Terrorism (DJACT).  But this Declaration does not provide any clear definition of terrorism other than stating that terrorism is a “direct challenge to the attainment of peace, progress and prosperity of ASEAN.”[1]   There was even a deliberate attempt on the part of ASEAN not to provide a definition of terrorism because of the presence of Muslim communities in the region that might perceive any definition as anti-Islamic in the context of the emergence of militant Islam in Southeast Asia.[2]  Nonetheless, the Agreement on Information Exchange and Establishment of Communication Procedures initially signed by Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (The Trilateral Agreement) on 7 May 2002 attempts to define terrorism as:

Any act of violence of threat thereof perpetrated to carry out within the respective territories of the Parties or in the border area of any of the Parties an individual or collective criminal plan with the aim of terrorizing people of threatening to harm them or imperiling their lives, honor, freedoms, security or rights or exposing the environment or any facility or public or private
property to hazards or occupying or seizing them, or endangering a national resource, or international facilities, of threatening the stability, territorial integrity, political unity or sovereignty of independent States.[3]

            Based on DJACT, the Trilateral Agreement and other ASEAN declarations related to terrorism, ASEAN reached a milestone in regional counterterrorism when members signed the ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism (ACCT) on 13 January 2007.  The ACCT provides a definition based on various UN conventions that criminalize acts of terrorism (See Table).   However, the ACCT is being criticized because ASEAN does not have yet the necessary institutions needed to enforce the Convention.[4]

Criminal Acts of Terrorism in Southeast Asia
  1. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, concluded at Montreal on 23 September 1971;
  2. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons, Including Diplomatic Agents, adopted in New York on 14 December 1973;
  3. International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages, adopted in New York on 17 December 1979;
  4. Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, adopted in Vienna on 26 October 1979;
    f. Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, done at Montreal on 24 February 1988;
  5. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, done at Rome on 10 March 1988;
  6. Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, done at Rome on 10 March 1988;
  7. International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted in New York on 15 December 1997;
  8. International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted in New York on 9 December 1999;
  9. International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, adopted in New York on 13 April 2005;
  10. Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, done at Vienna on 8 July 2005;
  11. Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, done at London on 14 October 2005; and
  12. Protocol of 2005 to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf, done at London on 14 October 2005. 

Source:  “Article II”, ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism, 2007.

Though ASEAN members already adopted a legal definition of terrorism as articulated in the ASEAN Convention, the scholarly community has little consensus on the definition of terrorism in the region.  In Southeast Asia, terrorism has always been associated with domestic armed rebellions and local insurgencies with known deep historical, political, social and economic roots.[5]   Thus,  a “more complete understanding of the terrorism phenomenon therefore requires us to examine terrorism from a more holistic and even historical perspective, in order to arrive at a more in-depth understanding of the complexities of this historical phenomenon, particularly the fundamental motivations or grievances that underlie the use of terrorism.”[6]  As such, terrorism in Southeast Asia “cannot be viewed in narrow definitional terms nor is it amenable to a set of generalizations, and hence narrow prescriptive countermeasures.”[7]



[This piece is taken from Rommel C. Banlaoi, Counter-Terrorism Measures in Southeast Asia:  How Effective Are They? (Manila: Yuchengco Center, 2009)].
[1] For more discussions, see Rommel C. Banlaoi, War on Terrorism in Southeast Asia (Quezon City:  Rex Book Store International, 2004), pp. 9-16.
[2] See Barry Desker, “Islam and Society in Southeast Asia After September 11”, IDSS Working Paper Series, No. 3 (September 2002);  Willem van der Geest, ed., “Mapping Muslim Politics in Southeast Asia After September 11”, The European Institute for Asian Studies Publications, Vol. 2, No. 5 (December 2002); and, Harold Crouch, Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, Carmen A. Abubakar and Yang Razali Kassim, “Islam in Southeast Asia:  Analyzing Recent Developments”, ISEAS Working Paper Series, No. 1 (January 2002).
[3] Cited in Ibid., p. 9.
[4] International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, “Analysis:  ASEAN Convention on Counter Terrorism” (31 January 2006) at www.pvtr.org/pdf/Legislative%20Response/ASEAN%20Convention%20on%20Counter%20Terrorism. 
[5] Andrew T.H. Tan, “Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia” in Andrew T.H. Tan (ed), A Handbook of Terrorism and Insurgency in Southeast Asia (Great Britain and Massachusetts:  Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc., 2007), p. 5.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.

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