New "No Assistance for Assad Act" Has Protections for Humanitarian Assistance

February 7, 2018

On Dec. 19, 2017 leadership in the House Foreign Affairs Committee proposed HR 4681, the “No Assistance for Assad Act,” that would bar U.S. government funded reconstruction assistance to Assad-controlled areas of Syria unless the President certifies that specific conditions are met. The bill exempts humanitarian assistance (with some conditions) and projects sponsored by local communities. It would apply from fiscal years 2018-2022.

Hill Hearings Focus on Updating Banking Laws: Impact on NPOs TBD

December 12, 2017

Both the House of Representatives and Senate held hearings in late November on proposed legislation to update the 50-year-old Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), which is the primary law setting out anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing (AML/CFT) rules for banks.  While the bills in each house vary, statements in the hearings echoed the same theme: the world has changed substantially since the BSA was updated in 2001 and gaps and strains in the AML/CFT system need to be addressed.  However, neither bill addresses the negative impacts of bank “derisking” (dropping accounts or limiting services) on nonprofit organizations (NPOs) or financial inclusion goals. The contradiction between the strict liability for violations in the current AML/CFT regime and the need for a proportionate, risk-based approach, cited by the Financial Action Task Force in 2016, was also not discussed. The move the update the BSA and related AML/CFT laws presents both opportunities and challenges for NPOs in 2018. The legislation and testimony is summarized below. 

Foreign Agents Registration Act, Proposed Amendments and Protecting Nonprofit Organizations

November 7, 2017

Investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election has generated high interest in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires registration and disclosure by those acting “for or on behalf of” foreign governments and entities. Now several bills have been introduced in Congress to strengthen FARA. Such amendments have the potential to create problems for nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and should be closely monitored and analyzed if any move forward. FARA has been cited as a model to justify restrictive legislation in several countries that target NPOs and infringe on their rights of association, assembly and expression. This analysis provides background on FARA, a description of pending bills in Congress and links to summaries of foreign laws that distort FARA’s legitimate aims in order to close civil society space.

House Oversight Hearing Looks at Impact of Anti-terrorist Financing Laws on Lawful U.S. Charities

June 1, 2010

On May 26, 2010 the first Congressional oversight hearing since 9/11 looked at the impact of anti-terrorist financing enforcement policies on the U.S. charitable sector. A Department of Treasury (Treasury) official acknowledged that the laws aimed at stopping terrorist financing have hurt charitable programs. Witnesses from the U.S. nonprofit sector explained the negative impacts on legitimate charities and the chilling effect of Treasury’s authority to shut down organizations without independent oversight or due process. The hearing, Anti-Money Laundering: Blocking Terrorist Financing and Its Impact on Lawful Charities, was held by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.  

Bipartisan Atrocity and Genocide Bill Introduced in House, Companion to Senate Effort

June 28, 2017

A bipartisan group of 28 members of the House of Representatives joined Senate colleagues in supporting efforts to end genocide and mass atrocities by filing the Elie Wiesel Atrocities and Genocide Prevent Act  of 2017 (HR 3030) on June 22, 2107. The bill is an important step toward practical and effective approaches to preventing and ending violence and armed conflict that is fueling suffering by millions of people around the world. House bill text   The press release from lead sponsors Reps. Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Joe Crowley (D-NY), says the bill, “with its “companion legislation to S. 1158, would establish an interagency Mass Atrocities Task Force to strengthen the U.S. Government’s atrocity prevention and response efforts. The legislation encourages the Director of National Intelligence to include atrocity crime information in his or her annual report to Congress; authorizes training for U.S. Foreign Service Officers on early signs of atrocities and transitional justice measures; and authorizes the Complex Crises Fund to support programs to prevent emerging or unforeseen crises overseas."

A summary of the bills from the Friends Committee on National Legislation is here and Five Reasons to Support it are here. Over 60 organizations, including the Charity & Security Network, have signed a statement supporting the bill.

Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act Passes House, Could Affect Humanitarian Operations

May 19, 2017

In a rare bipartisan moment, the House of Representatives approved HR 1677, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2017 on May 16, 2017. Passed in a voice vote, the bill would authorize the President to expand sanctions that apply to the Syrian government to the Central Bank of Syria and to foreign persons that 1) provide material support to the government or Central Bank, 2) transfer arms or weapons to the government and 3) are responsible for human rights abuses against Syrians, including targeting civilian infrastructure for attack or hindering access for humanitarian assistance. It provides a limited waiver process for groups doing humanitarian or stabilization or democracy promotion, stating that U.S. policy shall “fully utilize the waiver authority…to ensure that adequate humanitarian relief or support for stabilization and democracy promotion is provided to the Syrian people.” However, exceptions described below may limit the benefits of the waiver provision. The bill also requires the President to develop a strategy “to ensure humanitarian organizations can access financial services to ensure the safe and timely delivery assistance to communities in need in Syria.” As the bill is considered by the Senate, nonprofit organizations should ask for a closer analysis to ensure that any law that emerges does not inadvertently narrow space for humanitarian operations from what is currently authorized.

Summary of Economic Sanctions Laws and Regulations Authorizing Treasury to Shut Down Charities

September 15, 2009

The legal authority for the Department of Treasury to designate a person or organization as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) or freeze assets "pending investigation" is based on laws providing for economic sanctions against foreign nations, going back to the Trading With the Enemy Act in 1917 and ending with the Patriot Act.