Panel of Experts Reviews Need for Action to Fulfill Obama's Cairo Commitment

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Date: 
May 17, 2010

During his remarks in Cairo, the President acknowledged the “rules on charitable giving” had created harsh barriers for legitimate charities and donors and pledged a “commitment” to remedy those restrictions. On May 12, 2010, a panel of U.S. nonprofit leaders and legal experts examined the administrations’ response to these concerns. The event hosted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Charity and Security Network. 

Speakers at the event, Commitment to Charitable Giving: One Year After Obama's Cairo Speech, described the policies that have harmed U.S. charitable work and offered model reforms. These remarks included:

Rob Buchanan, President of the El-Hibri Foundation and former Director of International Programs at the Council on Foundations, explained how the Department of Treasury’s policies have harmed charities in the U.S.. For years, Treasury officials have described charities “vulnerable to abuse and exploitation” by terrorist groups, but Buchanan said they have failed to define these terms and “provided no supporting evidence” of this claim. Buchanan also criticized Treasury ’s Voluntary Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines for U.S.  Charities.  He called them “counterproductive and ineffective.”  He noted that leaders in the nonprofit sector have repeatedly “called for their withdrawal” and replacement with the Principles of International Charity, a document published in 2005 by a group of experts from the charitable sector.

Ellen D. Willmott, Deputy General Counsel for Save the Children USA described the real world consequences from restrictive and punitive counterterrorism measures. Willmott said by the material support laws force humanitarian workers in Gaza to limit who receives aid for basic essential items such as food, clean water and educational materials to children. She said this violates humanitarian principles of non-discrimination. As a result, organizations like hers provide resources to a limited number of children in private schools, but are unable to respond to the “needs of children in public schools.”

 
Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at American University Washington College of Law and nationally recognized expert on the role of the federal courts in the war on terrorism, provided an analysis of several legal cases and ruling that impact the charitable work. He explained how rulings in the KindHearts’ case (that Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights of the charity were violated)  and the eventual decision from the Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, could favorably impact the work of charitable groups.
 
Sahar Aziz, a civil rights attorney, offered a series of model reforms for aligning counterterrorism measures with fundamental humanitarian principles.   Highlighted principles to guide reforms, Aziz emphasized the importance of putting “the humanitarian imperative first” and that “human rights and security laws can be complementary.”

Kay Guinane, Program Manager at the Charity and Security Network concluded the panel discussion by calling on the President and officials in his administration to adopt a big picture approach. She said, "Currently the U.S. government's lens of anti-terrorist financing leads to a limited 'disrupt and dismantle' strategy that ignores the bigger picture. If we apply the lens of the humanitarian imperative, we see suffering that can be avoided and opportunities for peace that can be exploited. We urge the administration to adopt a humanitarian lens, as suggested in the letter. The result will be that practical, feasible solutions will become clear,” Guinane said.