Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
Chapter 40: The legal response of the Organisation of American States in combating terrorism
The initiatives taken by the Organisation of the American States (OAS), presently comprised of 35 member states, to counter the manifestations of terrorist violence in the Americas can be divided into three main periods. The first historical phase culminated with the adoption by a Conference of foreign ministers in 1971 of the Convention to Prevent and Punish Acts of Terrorism Taking the Form of Crimes against Persons and Related Extortion that are of International Significance (1971 OAS Convention), in response to the multiple episodes of kidnapping of diplomats by revolutionary groups to obtain political concessions from governments. The paradigmatic example was the kidnapping and murder of Count Karl Von Spreti, the West German Ambassador to Guatemala, in 1970. In line with the crime-specific approach taken by the universal counter-terrorism treaties of that time, the 1971 OAS Convention accordingly sought to safeguard certain protected persons. The adoption of that international legal instrument was characterised by polarised positions among the OAS member states. While some delegations favoured a more comprehensive treaty instead of a one covering a specific issue, others feared that its provisions would infringe excessively on state sovereignty. As a result, only a narrow majority of states voted in favour of the Convention and signed it.
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