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.
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.
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.
“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.
Terrorism has been on the modern international agenda since 1934, when the League of Nations discussed a draft convention for the prevention and punishment of terrorism. More recently, the United Nations (UN) has introduced a number of robust sanctions and anti-terror programs. These initiatives make up the bulwark of the UN’s efforts, but many were created with little transparency and are routinely criticized for violating fundamental norms of due process and insufficiently respecting human rights. Other tools, like the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, call on all UN members to undertake measures against terrorism, but to do so “in accordance with the Charter of the UN and the relevant provisions of international law, including international standards of human rights.”
The U.S. terrorist listing process is designed to cut off funding to terrorists by freezing their funds and banning financial transactions with them. The President designates terrorist groups by Executive Order and authorizes the Treasury Department to list others that support them. A lack of clear standards, transparency and oversight of the list has raised serious concerns over the due process rights of those listed and the accuracy of the list itself.
In March 2013, the Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) released an audit of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the DOJ’s National Security Division collaborative efforts to counter terrorist financing (CFT). Along with making an unsupported claim that terrorists commonly use donations to charities as a revenue source, the audit touches on areas of the FBI and DOJ’s CFT efforts that are less commonly reported on, including the terrorist designation process and interagency Terrorist Financing Working Group. It lays out eight recommendations for improvement, including identifying ways “that the FBI could strengthen its terrorist financing program through improved case management practices” and more specialized training for senior staff positions.