The study, written by Rhoda Margesson, Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy and Susan G. Chesser, Information Research Specialist, was published on Sept. 4, 2013. It provides a thorough summary of the impact the conflict in Syria has had on the civilian population, the U.S. government’s contribution to humanitarian aid efforts and the international response. It identifies policy issues the situation raises Congress, including the level of funding, whether aid should be “branded” as coming from the U.S., given the safety problems such a move would create for people on the ground.
The United States Institute for Peace's Georgia Holmer published the report Countering Violent Extremism, a Peacebuiling Perspective on Aug. 29, 2013. It examines theories and practive of preventing terrorism by countering violent extremism (CVE) and points out the need for strong civil society participation in this arena. She recommends that "Peacebuilders and peacebuilding practice can contribute to and enhance the CVE agenda in several ways.." These include:
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) within the U.S. Department of Treasury is tasked, in part, with ensuring that money from U.S. persons and entities does not fall into the hands of terrorist groups. An array of sanction laws have been enacted that make it a crime for money to go to certain countries (for example, Iran and Syria) and certain organizations (for example, Hamas and al-Qaeda). OFAC has the authority both to enforce these laws, by freezing the assets of any U.S. group or individual who violates them, and to provide exceptions to these laws through licenses.
The Palestinian territories receive some of the highest amount of humanitarian aid of any place in the world from the U.S. government and charitable donors.[i] Most of this aid goes to the West Bank. The flow of aid dollars hits a significant barrier when it comes to the other Palestinian territory, the Gaza Strip. The elected government in Gaza, Hamas, was listed as a terrorist group by the U.S.
The U.S. government maintains two lists containing entities (State’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) & Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN)) it believes engage in terrorist activity. It is illegal to provide these groups with material support which is defined broadly in the law to include tangible goods like food or clothing, medical services, and training in conflict mediation.
But the laws designed to starve the terrorists also make it nearly impossible for humanitarian actors to reach or offer assistance to civilians living in territory controlled by a blacklisted group. That means that in conflict zones or natural disaster areas where these groups are active, providing medical services or distributing non-medicinal necessities such as clean water, tents, blankets, food can be prohibited.
Syria - Background
Since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, a mostly peaceful mass street protest has transformed into a destructive and deadly civil war pitting the Free Syrian Army (FSA) against the Alawite-dominated security forces of President Bashar al-Assad. With the conflict raging across much of the country and difficulties getting international aid to civilians inside Syria, the humanitarian situation is described as “catastrophic” and continues to deteriorate at a rapid pace.
Before the first government to be internationally recognized in two decades came into power in early 2013, Somalia had been a country without an effective government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Since then, two decades of conflict, severe weather, and the lack of basic services and infrastructure have contributed to major food shortages for almost half of the country’s ten million people. Amidst the rampant insecurity and shortages, humanitarian efforts were further complicated by U.S. restrictions that prohibited aid delivery to the nearly two million civilians living in areas of the country controlled by al-Shabaab, a militant group that operates in southern Somalia, during the 2011 famine.
4.3 million people in Mali, a West African nation in the heart of the Sahel, are experiencing a humanitarian crisis following the collapse of the country’s central government in March 2012 and a foreign military intervention against armed militant groups in early 2013. The conflict uprooted thousands of people, and according to Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), over 170,000 Malians are refugees in neighboring countries, and another 270,000 were forced to abandon their homes in the north to seek safety in southern Mali.
“In order for peacebuilding to be successful,” the ACCORD Peacebuilding Handbook says, “there is a strong need to understand local contexts and to develop strategies that address root causes of conflict.” Released in April 2013, the Handbook provides an introductory look at the various actors involved in and phases of peacebuilding efforts and identifies different approaches that practitioners have used in recent history when trying to end conflicts nonviolently. “As can be expected from such an ambitious undertaking, a large variety of peacebuilding tasks are conducted at different levels (grass-roots, sub-national, national and international) and at different stages of a conflict-to-peace spectrum (pre-conflict through to post-conflict environments),” it says. The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) is a conflict management organization based in Durban, South Africa, and has worked with former President Nelson Mandela in facilitating the role of civil society in the peace process in Burundi.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an intergovernmental policy making body that sets counter-terrorist financing and anti-money laundering (CFT/AML) standards used in nearly 180 countries. Jurisdictions undergoing the FATF’s compliance evaluation process are strongly encouraged to introduce specific laws and financial regulations, including Recommendation 8 (R8), on the operations and activities of non-profit organizations (NPOs), or risk serious economic consequences that could affect foreign aid, remittances, and trade.