Abstract: Safeguarding Medical Care and Humanitarian Action in the UN Counterterrorism Framework

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Date: 
April 15, 2019

In her report Safeguarding Medical Care and Humanitarian Action in the UN Counterterrorism Framework, Alice Debarre poses the question of how UN and UN member state counterterrorism frameworks affect and interact with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). She does this through exploring what prevents IHL and counterterrorism frameworks from working together, specifically the principle of impartiality, which is significantly complicated by the lack of consensus on a definition for terrorism, terrorist act, or terrorist, and how designated terrorists should be treated under IHL. In this section she also references a status that has negatively impacted many an NGO: material support. Because medical personnel and aid groups are bound by medical ethics as well as IHL (specifically impartiality) under both UN and their host country’s counterterrorism laws, delivering aid becomes ever more difficult and risky as more and more counterterrorism laws are applied.

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Next, Debarre gives an extremely thorough background of INL and UN counterterrorism framework, from “cornerstone” UNSC resolution 1373 (2001) and its successors through various sanctions resolutions, counterterrorism bodies both within and without the UN, and relevant groups and member states said resolutions pertain to. Figure 1 on page 11 is particularly useful when trying to navigate what policies are implemented and through whom within the UN counterterror architecture. When mentioning that more recent UNSC resolutions have mentioned IHL, International Human Rights Law or International Refugee Law, the resolutions “remain general and vague on the interaction between counterterrorism measures and IHL and on when IHL is applicable. They also fail to include specific action points to ensure that UN counterterrorism entities adhere to their obligations under IHL. . . Nor do they provide any guidance on what it means for counterterrorism measures to adhere to those rules.”

Debarre’s recommendations are as follows: to insist on exemptions for humanitarian activities in all UN counterterrorism resolutions, to establish these same exemptions in all member states’ domestic policies, to insist upon the importance of IHL and its obligations in all UN counterterrorism measures, to incorporate humanitarian actors and perspectives in counterterrorism bodies, and for influential bodies and states to make an active effort to have a thorough conversation about the tension between counterterrorism regulations and IHL and how to alleviate it.

Read the full report here.