Impact on U.S. Nonprofits

Since 2001, counterterrorism measures have eroded the freedom and ability of charities and their funders to carry out their missions.  This is damaging the nation’s reputation and effectiveness on the global stage. 
photo by Kimberly Faye

Abstract: NGOs and Risk

March 20, 2019

NGOs & Risk: Managing Uncertainty in Local-International Partnerships is a massive and unprecedented forward step in quantifying and strengthening partnerships between International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs) and Local/National Non-Governmental Organizations (L/NNGOs) at a time when regulations and security concerns are making humanitarian work increasingly more difficult. Co-authors InterAction and Humanitarian Outcomes, with the support of USAID, explore partnership types, risk ownership and allocation in partnerships, and risk management, and conclude with recommendations for all parties involved with humanitarian work.


Joel Charny of the Norwegian Refugee Council writes "Counter-Terrorism and Humanitarian Action: The Perils of Zero Tolerance" in response to a 2018 article in which the author claims NGOs have a history of intentionally and unintentionally aiding terrorist groups. Charny argues against this by highlighting how counter-terrorism regulations and laws, although designed to prevent violence, often do the opposite by preventing humanitarian and aid organizations from doing work that would remove the conditions that breed violence. "Put simply, the global war on terror is morally bankrupt and will never succeed if the victims of ISIL and Boko Haram cannot receive protection, humanitarian assistance, and support to rebuild their lives. Further, humanitarian organizations that can afford to opt out of partnering with the U.S. government will increasingly do so rather than risking being fined and discredited as the result of investigations based on rules they never signed on to." 

Read more at War On The Rocks

A Counterterrorism Regime Out of Control?

October 11, 2018
Julia Cripps

We welcome the strong condemnation of countries’ onerous counterterrorism measures by UN Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard in her report, Saving Lives Is Not A Crime. Callamard notes that the broad policies and vague definitions of “terrorism” have provoked “chilling effects on the provision of humanitarian aid for people desperately in need of help.” She condemns anti-terrorist financing measures for deterring organizations and individuals from providing support to areas of high humanitarian need, noting how the US has frozen “the assets of numerous Muslim charities, and many Muslims are afraid to give money to charity groups in case they may be suspected of providing material support to terrorism.” Callamard’s findings corroborate the evidence found by the Charity & Security Network in our 2017 study, Financial Access for U.S. Nonprofits, which found that two-thirds of U.S.-based non-profit organizations working abroad are facing problems accessing financial services due to bank derisking.

Publication of Unindicted Co-conspirator List in Holy Land Case Violated Due Process Rights, Court Rules

April 22, 2011
Since 2004 the criminal prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and its leaders for material support of terrorism has been, and continues to be, a long running legal battle. One unusual twist has been a May 29, 2007 filing by the prosecution that listed 246 individuals and entities as "Un-indicted Co-conspirators and/or Joint Venturers." In a break with DOJ policies, the list was not sealed and the names, which included most major U.S. Muslim organizations, were made public. Both the trial court in Dallas and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the release violated due process rights under the Fifth Amendment.

FARA Used to Attack Environmental Nonprofit

June 7, 2018

A recent letter to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S.-based environmental nonprofit organization, from the House Committee on Natural Resources confirms civil society's worst fears about how the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) can be politicized to target nonprofits in the U.S.  With the letter, the Committee has initiated an investigation of the NRDC, accusing it of being a "foreign agent" of the Chinese government, and inquiring why it hasn't registered under FARA. 

The  letter cites "the potential manipulation of tax-exempt 501(c) organizations by foreign entities to influence U.S. environmental and natural resource policy." The Committee claims that NRDC has criticized U.S. policies on the environment while praising China's efforts to comply with climate change commitments, and are therefore acting in the interests of the Chinese government. 

Foreign Agent Registration Bill Advances in House on Split Vote: Could Affect Nonprofit Cross-Border Programs

February 7, 2018

Congress has responded to concerns about foreign influence in U.S. elections by introducing several bills to amend the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), an obscure law requiring registration and disclosure by those acting “for or on behalf of” foreign governments and entities. (Background on FARA here.) On Jan. 17, 2018 the Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives approved HR 4170 on a split vote, over-riding Democrats’ calls for a hearing and rejecting several amendments intended to address constitutional concerns. The International Center on Not for Profit Law (ICNL) has said that left unchanged, the current vague definition of a “foreign agent” in the law could lead to politically motivated enforcement and intrusive registration and reporting requirements.

Abstract: Why Shrinking Civil Society Space Matters

November 16, 2017

A new report from the European Foundation Centre and the Funders Initiative for Civil Society examines how the trend of shrinking civil society space affects development funders and actors. The report, Why Shrinking Civil Society Space Matters, is intended to develop better insight into the issue and to increase awareness of the threats to civil society and to discuss approaches that can enable a more effective response to reverse this trend. 

According to the report, a healthy civil society is key to increasing equality and reducing poverty in development work. The disturbing trend in restrictions on civil society's ability to operate, especially in developing countries, stems from a range of government measures, including constraints on freedom of assembly to imposing excessive red tape and limitations on foreign sources of funding. This can stifle the ability of INGOs to support local organizations, engage in advocacy work and carry out programs. 

Controversial "Operation Choke Point" Program Has Ended

August 21, 2017

Updated August 23, 2017

In an August 16, 2017 letter to Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that its controversial program dubbed "Operation Choke Point" has officially ended. In the letter, DOJ also repudiated the program, which it described as a "misguided initiative." Significantly, the letter states that DOJ "will not discourage the provision of financial services to lawful industries." 

Operation Choke Point was established during the Obama administration to "choke" payday lenders, gun dealers and other business sectors by forcing banks to end relationships with clients deemed "high-risk," a term also used to describe charities in the Bank Examiners Manual. According to the letter to Congress, under the program, a series of subpoenas were issued in 2013, accompanied by a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation guidance document that listed a number of "elevated risk" merchants. An October 19, 2015, article in American Banker documented the impact on money service businesses and correspondent banks, thereby contributing to the global "de-risking" crisis

Forty Nonprofits Launch Statement of Principles Capaign

Calling on the U.S. government to protect and respect their work, 40 groups have launched a campaign urging support for a Statement of Principles protecting U.S. nonprofit organizations. The statement recognizes the vital role of U.S. nonprofits in supporting communities and protecting democracy, and denounces unnecessary restrictions that can limit their ability to carry out good works. 

Because of the negative impact that national security policy has had on nonprofits since 9/11, along with the global problem of narrowing space for civil society, these nonprofits want the new Congress and administration to respect these principles and protect nonprofit organizations. Just over one year ago, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) changed its standard on nonprofits, recognizing that only a small fraction of nonprofits are at risk for terrorist financing, and directing countries not to disrupt or discourage the activities of legitimate nonprofit organizations. 

The organizations launching the campaign include umbrella groups with large memberships, such as the Alliance for Peacebuilding, Council on Foundations and InterAction, as well as groups that engage in humanitarian aid, development, peacebuilding, grantmaking, and the protection of human rights and civil liberties, from Amnesty International USA to the Zakat Foundation. The campaign encourages additional organizations to sign on to the statement. 

Read the full statement   

Read the press release