MADRID, Spain -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed creation of a treaty outlawing terrorism Thursday, denouncing attacks that target civilians and arguing that no political grievance justifies killing the innocent.
Speaking at a world terrorism conference, Annan said military reprisals cannot always be ruled out. But prevention, such as addressing the causes of extremist violence, is the best counterterrorism strategy, he said, adding: "human rights and the rule of law must always be respected."
"We cannot compromise on the core values," the secretary-general said in remarks to terrorism experts and world leaders from 50 countries, including Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The conference is sponsored by the Club de Madrid, which is comprised of 56 former presidents and prime ministers. Members along with the experts have worked in Madrid since Tuesday on research panels trying to identify the causes of terrorism and propose solutions.
Their recommendations, including a proposed U.N. definition of terrorism, will be refined into guidelines called the "Madrid Agenda" that conference participants plan to take back to their governments for implementation.
A definition of terrorism has long been controversial, in part because governments often use violence to accomplish goals. But delegates at the conference suggested that reaching an international consensus would be the first step in averting more attacks.
"There is no cause under the sun that could justify the deliberate killing of civilians," said Anand Panyarachun, former prime minister of Thailand. "The killing of civilians is unjustified under any circumstance."
The United Nations has long struggled with this issue, lacking agreement on just what constitutes terrorism. Some states want one to exempt "freedom fighters," while others insist any definition must cover governments and their soldiers.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict typifies the dilemma in coming up with a definition. The Palestinians have argued, for example, they are justified in resisting Israel's military occupation by using suicide bombs against civilians while the Israelis say such tactics are unacceptable.
However, delegates insist that having a common understanding on what terrorism is would permit the United Nations and other world bodies to fight it jointly and help create laws that would allow for prosecution of the perpetrators.
During a panel debate, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the League of Arab States, did not argue against creating a definition, as long as the United Nations was involved. But he stressed that counterterrorism efforts should focus more on the causes of extremist violence.
"The issue is not that simple," he said.
The conference was timed to commemorate the anniversary of the Madrid train bombings. The attack, believed to have been carried out by Islamic extremists, killed 191 people and injured more than 1,500.
Experts at the conference have begun offering their recommendations ahead of today's final session. In one key area -- financing terrorism -- experts urged world leaders to create an international institution under U.N. auspices to track the elusive methods terrorists use to raise money.
The draft recommendation said measures undertaken so far to curb terrorist financing were insufficient to cut the flow of funds to al-Qaida and other international terrorist groups.
Foreign policy experts warned that nations must join together to fight terrorism -- rather than letting differences of opinion weaken their resolve. As a first step, the United Nations must step forward to take the lead, delegates said.
Associated Press correspondents Danica Kirka, Mar Roman and Harold Heckle contributed to this report from Madrid.