UK Study Seeks Reconciliation of Humanitarian, Counterterrorism Goals

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Date: 
May 11, 2017

A new study from Chatham House and the Royal United Services Institute in the UK finds that humanitarian objectives are often stymied by counterterrorism laws designed to prevent assistance or funds going to non-state armed groups. Humanitarian Action and Non-state Armed Groups: The UK Regulatory Environment asserts that to resolve this conflict, the UK government needs to adopt a clear, unified approach to reconciling its humanitarian and counterterrorism priorities. 

The report finds that the licensing system under sanctions regimes is opaque and ineffective, recommending that the UK government seek humanitarian exemptions, as well as simplify and expedite its domestic licensing system. It also notes that although the government cites prosecutorial discretion in asserting that there is no need for additional guidance around potential criminal penalties for incidental payments to listed groups, "prosecutorial discretion is insufficient comfort for humanitarian actors anxious to avoid breaking the law and the wide offences have a 'chilling effect'." 

Two UK government has dismissed recommendations to explore the possibility of introducing exceptions to counterterrorism legislation for humanitarian activities. It argues that legislative change would create a loophole open to exploitation. The Chatham House study recommends that this option should be explored further, with consideration of foreign laws and international instruments. 

The report also addresses the global phenomenon of bank de-risking and its impact on humanitarian aid organizations. The report authors urge the UK government to move proactively to counter this trend and to engage in international dialogue aimed at finding solutions. 

Read the full report