Study: Building Peace in Permanent War: Terrorist Listing and Conflict Transformation

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Date: 
June 17, 2015

There is a growing consensus that laws prohibiting support to listed entities “have contributed to a ‘shrinking space’ for those seeking to establish the conditions conducive to peace.” This is the conclusion of a groundbreaking March 2015 report by the Transnational Institute, Building Peace in Permanent War: Terrorist Listing and Conflict Transformation

As the ever-widening net of terrorist listing grows and we find ourselves in a place of “permanent war,” aid, development and peacebuilding organizations feel increasingly squeezed, unable to carry out their mandates for fear of running afoul of antiterrorist laws and policies.

In the last five years, peacebuilding groups in particular have tried to navigate this difficult terrain in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Humanitarian Law Project decision, which found that the prohibition on material support of terrorism included communication with designated groups, even when that communication is directed at getting those very groups to lay down their arms. Anyone providing this type of conflict resolution training, regardless of the location of the training or the nationality of the organization, could potentially face prosecution and imprisonment in the U.S.

The report, authored by Louise Boon-Kuo, Ben Hayes, Vicki Sentas and Gavin Sullivan, found that although the Supreme Court ruling “sent shockwaves through the peacebuilding community, there have been surprisingly few attempts to reconcile the idea that counterterrorism measures which target associations are not simply ‘unintended consequences’.” The report asks, “How could professional mediators, peacebuilding organisations and other conflict resolution actors continue to engage in confidence that their activities were both legitimate and lawful?”

National and international “blacklisting” regimes, as the report calls them, were created to prevent violent extremists from carrying out terrorist attacks and to create incentives to come to the negotiating table or turn away from violence. Instead, these listings have exacerbated conflicts “by encouraging state repression of unarmed dissidents and thus fueling radicalism.” At the same time, third parties such as charities, diaspora communities, and humanitarian and development groups have been negatively impacted as well. Feeling an even greater push are the peacebuilding organizations best posed to reduce or eliminate these armed conflicts entirely.

The report presents empirical data, unavailable until now, on how counter-terrorist legislation affects the work of local and international peacebuilders alike. Data was gathered through extensive interviews with practitioners and policy-makers involved in conflict transformation efforts in three ongoing conflicts: Somalia, Israel/Palestine, and Turkey/Kurdistan. In each of the three cases, the primary non-state group (Al-Shabaab, Hamas, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), respectively) has been designated as a terrorist entity. The report is the first study to connect analysis of counterterrorism laws with an attempt to assess the impact of terrorist proscription on peacebuilding. 

The report confirms what peacebuilding organizations have been saying for years, that terrorist listings “shrink the space” for international peacebuilding work in these conflicts criminalizing third-party mediation and negotiation support, “and impeding confidence-building with listed actors and ‘insider mediators’.” The report then goes a step further, asserting that the terrorist listings might present more than “unintended consequences” for peacebuilders and mediators. Instead, the authors argue, terrorist listings might “deliberately target sincere attempts at conflict transformation.”

The full report is available here.