Report: Terrorist Lists Impede Peace Processes

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December 20, 2011

A November 2011 report from Berghof Conflict Research analyzes the impact and effectiveness of terrorist ‘blacklisting’ regimes on peace processes with non-state armed groups, and argues that they interfere in finding political solutions to armed conflict. Anti-Terror Legislation: Impediments to Conflict Transformation says the inconsistent and secretive application of terrorist designations by governments is also commonly being used to blur the distinction between legal and unlawful political activism.  The report offers a range of recommendations to reform the terrorist listing process, including the development of more transparent listing regimes and carving out protected space for peacebuilders to ply their craft without fear of prosecution.

Rather than encourage armed movements to adopt peaceful strategies, the report finds the proscription of a non-state group “can fuel radicalism and create direct impediments for humanitarian or political negotiations.”   This was the case in places like Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Nepal, where the designation of groups curtailed any meaningful engagement with them and had the bitter effect of strengthening “military hardliners, by demonstrating the futility of negotiations or nonviolent political approaches.”
“Engaging with non-state armed groups is an essential component of any conflict transformation strategy and a key ingredient to a peace agreement’s implementation,” says the report. “However, the past decade has been marked by an increasingly hard security approach to conflicts.”
Proponents of terror blacklists, such as the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list or Treasury’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, say these designations are intended to “isolate, stigmatize and delegitimize” individuals and groups and generally “disrupt the activities of terrorist groups by criminalizing their members, cutting off their access to funds and undermining their support.”  
But the report finds it is “difficult to prove” the effectiveness of these tactics on changing the behaviors of violent non-state actors. “The looming threat of international sanctions is more likely to play a moderating role on …repressive governments or army leaders, who are usually more sensitive to the restriction and moral stigma brought by diplomatic isolation.”  In fact, the report says that the “labeling of a group as terrorist entity and cutting off the possibility for engagement can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, neutralizing incentives for an armed group to undergo the difficult transformation to become a legitimate and nonviolent political party.” Perhaps the most telling evidence of the lists’ failure “is the fact that virtually all of the groups that have been proscribed in the past decade are still active.” 
Terror lists also open the door for widespread repression of unarmed dissidents when used by governments as a means to stifle political opposition. In places like the Philippines and Colombia, “local governments engaged in counter-insurgency operations against armed groups proscribed in the U.S. and EU have taken advantage of the terror lists to enforce emergency legislations and exceptional measures which undermine the rule of law and human rights…and have led to increased security threats against grassroots actors or NGOs involved in peacemaking, humanitarian or development activities.” 
To improve the effectiveness of the listing regimes, the report makes several recommendations:
  • Carve out protected spaces for civil society experts and mediators to engage with all parties to a conflict
  • Design more transparent terrorist listing regimes and sanctions
  • Improve analysis and evaluation standards of anti-terrorist policies
  • Relax criteria and mechanisms for delisting to reward or encourage constructive shifts in behavior
  • Foster a culture of soft power engagement that encourages dialogue, mediation and respect for the rule of law.