Report: UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Warns of "Chilling Effect" on Humanitarian Aid

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Date: 
October 4, 2018

A UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has criticized counter-terrorism laws for imposing “chilling effects on the provision of humanitarian aid for people desperately in need of help.” Agnès Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, released her report on August 7th 2018, entitled Saving Lives Is Not A Crime. The paper focuses on the criminalization of humanitarian services and actors due to counter-terrorism activities, anti-migration policies, and the outlawing of sexual and reproductive rights in some countries.

In her focus on the impact of counter-terrorism practices, Callamard found that “[anti-terrorist financing] compliance has been implemented inconsistently. The lack of a globally agreed definition of terrorism has meant that States have adopted unacceptably wide and nefarious definitions in national law.” The report warns of the impact these barriers have to the provision of humanitarian services in conflict zones. In particular, Callamard identifies the United States as a “one of the most influential countries in this area... given its extensive role in the global banking system.” The report warns that the United States’ counter-terrorism laws appear to criminalize “effectively all aid and support”, and permits unfair practices whereby banks “make potentially arbitrary decisions concerning the assets of individuals and organizations, including humanitarian organizations.” She condemns these measures for deterring organizations and individuals from providing support to areas of high humanitarian need, noting how the US has frozen “the assets of numerous Muslim charities, and many Muslims are afraid to give money to charity groups in case they may be suspected of providing material support to terrorism.” Callamard’s findings corroborate the evidence found by the Charity & Security Network in our 2017 study, Financial Access for U.S. Nonprofits, which found that two-thirds of U.S.-based non-profit organizations (NPOs) working abroad are facing problems accessing financial services due to bank derisking.

Callamard includes a number of important recommendations to the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council in her report. She calls on policymakers to better define “terrorism” and include language that would specifically exempt individuals and organizations providing humanitarian relief from counter-terrorism charges. Finally, she recommends to the NPO community that “that humanitarian actors engage in sector-wide dialogues and develop sector-wide policies, proposals and advocacy positions on minimizing the impact of laws and measures seeking to prevent humanitarian services and access.”

Read the full report here.