Report Highlights Conflict Between Counterterrorism Laws and Humanitarian Action

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Date: 
October 14, 2015

Measures intended to protect the world from terrorism intensify the difficulties for humanitarians in those same areas where terrorists operate. States have found it difficult to create a way for counterterrorism measures and humanitarian principles can co-exist, according to a new research briefing report from the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, Suppressing Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Supporting Principled Humanitarian Action: A Provisional Framework for Analyzing State Practice

The impacts of counterterrorism measures on humanitarian work is well-documented. And recently, humanitarian actors have become increasingly aware of these impacts, which can include heightened due diligence requirements on humanitarian organizations, restrictions on travel, or greater government scrutiny of national and regional aid organization staff. They can also create “chilling effect” on humanitarian action, meaning that aid organizations may decide not engage in life-saving work for fear that they will violate counterterrorism laws.

The report looks at looks at the many obligations of states trying to stem the threat of foreign terrorist fighters (FTF), and how states have met these requirements. One year after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014), which defines “foreign terrorist fighters,” this report looks at how some states have implemented the FTF-related obligations imposed by Resolution 2178. It then looks at whether those same states are supporting (or not actively curtailing) humanitarian aid and assistance, especially in relation to conflicts involving FTFs and other terrorists. The majority of the states surveyed for the report have not created protections for humanitarian action, such as exemption clauses, in their counterterrorism laws. “This is particularly poignant if we remember that Resolution 2178 is one of the few to call for counterterrorism actions consistent with international humanitarian law,” the report states.

Read the full report here.