In a message at odds with the Obama administration’s Stand for Civil Society initiative, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, William Brownfield, told a Dec. 8 conference in South Asia that, because an unspecified portion of charitable dollars are diverted to terrorist financing, countries must “strengthen charitable regulations.” The statement was made in Bangladesh, where a week earlier the cabinet approved a highly restrictive civil society law that places tight limits on finances and activities of nonprofits. Media reports on the speech interpreted it as praise for the restrictive new law. The U.S. Ambassador’s subsequent comments to the press were equally negative and lacking in any reference to the positive contributions of the nonprofit sector in countering violence. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders issued a statement on Dec. 12 calling on the government of Bangladesh to repeal the new law. The incident raises concerns that more South Asian governments will impose severe restrictions on civil society, with the appearance of U.S. support.
(Updated) The Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) approved a “terrorist” list of 83 groups on Nov. 15, 2014 that ranges from armed terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram to American and European Muslim humanitarian and rights groups, including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society (MAS).
The Charity & Security Network released a statement on Oct. 28, 2014 that analyzes the Department of Treasury's Oct. 17, 2014 GuidanceRelated to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance by Not-for-Profit Non-Governmental Organizations and concludes that "much more needs to be done to address U.S. legal restrictions on nonprofit organizations responding to humanitarian crises." Noting that the Guidance states that it has no legal force, the Network notes that it is "mostly clarification of current policy, rather than an effort to address systemic problems." The Network calls for more dialog on the issue with a representative group of nonprofits that addresses licensing barriers for both humanitarian and nonprofits engaged in peacebuilding support and other important activities.
On Oct. 17, 2014 the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released Guidance Related to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance by Not for Profit Non-Governmental Organizations, intended to provide clarification for nonprofits seeking licenses for activities that would otherwise be prohibited by economic sanctions programs. The document states it “does not have the force of law” and does not include key proposals made by nonprofits, such as clear standards for nonprofit licenses and timelines for decisions on license applications. It does not address the needs of development, peacebuilding, human rights or other types of nonprofit programs abroad. The licensing process has been criticized by nonprofits for being slow and non-transparent. The Guidance is a step in the right direction but more will need to be done to address problems nonprofits have experienced, most glaringly seen in the Somalia famine of 2011.
The UN has released the report of Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on freedoms of peaceful assembly and of assocation, that "addresses concerns about the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of multilateral organizations," generally defined as groups made of up of three or more countries. The key finding is that "mulitaleral institutions find themeslves caught between civil society's demands for real civic participation and inclusiveness and pushback from Governments which are uncomfortable with, or are threated by, citizen involvement." The Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) recommendations for anti-terrorist financing regulation are criticized for creating a "wave of new restrictions worldwide on funding for civil society." Kiai cites FATF as an example of multilateral organizations that poes a "serious, disproportinate and unfair threat to those who have no connection with terrorism, includnig civil society organizations."