Humanitarian Access Overview

August 24, 2017

Interactive Map: Humanitarian Crises Where Terror Groups Operate

 

Headlines & Opinion

2017

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2015

2014

2013 and earlier

 

Resources

 

Reports 

Report Examines Links between Sanctions, Counterterrorism and Humanitarian Action

Date: 
December 19, 2017
Author: 

Often, sanctioned or terrorist-designated groups control areas of humanitarian need. The legal prohibitions regarding these groups can include incidental payments that humanitarian actors may need to make in order to operate. According to a August 2017 paper from Chatham House, Recommendations for Reducing Tensions in the Interplay Between Sanctions, Counterterrorism Measures and Humanitarian Action, exemption clauses in these laws for humanitarian action is the best way to ensure that humanitarian operations do not violate the prohibitions. Currently, only one conflict-related UN Security Council sanctions regime includes this type of exemption.

In addition, banks must comply with the same legal regimes. In an effort to limit their liability, they have limited the services they offer to humanitarian actors considered "high risk." As a result, humanitarian organizations have noted that banks "are effectively dictating where they can operate." 

The paper suggests a series of steps to systematically gather information on the adverse impact of sanctions on humanitarian action so that the issue can be brought to the attention of the Security Council, and the UN broadly. The paper's author also suggests that humanitarian organizations invest time in building their relationships with banks to "assist them to develop specialist knowledge of the humanitarian sector, its business model and its approach to risk mitigation." The report also recommends that States engage directly with the banking sector to explain the programs they fund and the requirements that humanitarian organizations must meet. States could also consider "creative cooperative solutions, such as approved 'safe channels' for transmitting funds." 

Read the full paper

Report: Counterterrorism Measures Stifle Humanitarian Action, by UN OCHA and the NRC

Date: 
July 25, 2013

Over the last decade counterterrorism measures (CTMs) like the Patriot Act are having a direct and adverse impact on humanitarian action conducted by aid agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a July 2013 study finds.  Commissioned by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), the study, titled Study of the Impact of Donor Counter-Terrorism Measures on Principled Humanitarian Action, examines CTMs in the U.S., European Union and several other countries and determined that they unduly restrict aid programs, increase risks for aid workers, limit funding sources, and undermine partnerships with local NGOs.  International pressure on governments from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to adopt overly-restrictive regulations of NGOs to prevent terrorist financing also draws scrutiny in the study. The release announcement said, "The major conclusion is that the humanitarian community and donor States need to work more closely together to better reconcile counter-terrorism measures and humanitarian action." In September NRC and OCHA will host an event in New York to initiate such discussions.

World Humanitarian Day 2017

August 19 is World Humanitarian Day, another reminder of the need to alleviate suffering. This year, more than ever, we look to four countries on the brink of famine - Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Unfortunately, for a significant number of U.S. humanitarian aid and development organizations working abroad, the closure of their U.S. bank accounts and the inability to send wire transfers in a timely manner have a significant impact on their ability to fund critical programs in these and other countries in need. 

As described in our February 2017 report on Financial Access for U.S. Nonprofits, "the human costs of NPOs' financial access difficulties and continued inaction must be recognized. When programs are delayed or cancelled because of the inability to transfer funds, peace is not brokered, children are not schooled, staff is not paid, hospitals lose power, the needs of refugees are not met and in the worst cases, people die." 
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World Refugee Day 2017

Two groups of panelists examined the global refugee crisis at a World Refugee Day event at New America June 19. 

The first panel looked at how refugees resettle in US cities and become integral members of their communities, as well as innovations that are helping to integrate these newcomers. The second panel examined the role of the Syrian diaspora community in assisting those affected by the crisis in their home country. A number of organizations have distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for Syria and its neighbors. For more information and a recording of the event, click here

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

Date: 
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.

UK Study Addresses Conflict between Humanitarian, Counterterrorism Goals

A new study from Chatham House and the Royal United Services Institute in the UK finds that humanitarian objectives are often stymied by counterterrorism laws designed to prevent assistance or funds going to non-state armed groups. Humanitarian Action and Non-state Armed Groups: The UK Regulatory Environment asserts that to resolve this conflict, the UK government needs to adopt a clear, unified approach to reconciling its humanitarian and counterterrorism priorities. 

The report also addresses the global phenomenon of bank de-risking and its impact on humanitarian aid organizations. The report authors urge the UK government to move proactively to counter this trend and to engage in international dialogue aimed at finding solutions. 

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UK Study Seeks Reconciliation of Humanitarian, Counterterrorism Goals

Date: 
May 11, 2017

A new study from Chatham House and the Royal United Services Institute in the UK finds that humanitarian objectives are often stymied by counterterrorism laws designed to prevent assistance or funds going to non-state armed groups. Humanitarian Action and Non-state Armed Groups: The UK Regulatory Environment asserts that to resolve this conflict, the UK government needs to adopt a clear, unified approach to reconciling its humanitarian and counterterrorism priorities. 

The report finds that the licensing system under sanctions regimes is opaque and ineffective, recommending that the UK government seek humanitarian exemptions, as well as simplify and expedite its domestic licensing system. It also notes that although the government cites prosecutorial discretion in asserting that there is no need for additional guidance around potential criminal penalties for incidental payments to listed groups, "prosecutorial discretion is insufficient comfort for humanitarian actors anxious to avoid breaking the law and the wide offences have a 'chilling effect'." 

Two UK government has dismissed recommendations to explore the possibility of introducing exceptions to counterterrorism legislation for humanitarian activities. It argues that legislative change would create a loophole open to exploitation. The Chatham House study recommends that this option should be explored further, with consideration of foreign laws and international instruments. 

The report also addresses the global phenomenon of bank de-risking and its impact on humanitarian aid organizations. The report authors urge the UK government to move proactively to counter this trend and to engage in international dialogue aimed at finding solutions. 

Read the full report

Article Highlights Impact of Counterterrorism Laws on Humanitarian Aid

A new article in The Guardian highlights the negative impact of counterterrorism laws on the delivery of humanitarian aid, particularly in acute crises such as those unfolding in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. Listed terrorist groups operate in three of the four countries. 

The article notes that although laws in the UK and U.S. are not currently being used to prosecute well-meaning humanitarian organizations, the laws have a "chilling impact" on organizations that say they need clear guidance from governments. Experts say that these organizations have the right under international humanitarian law to negotiate with non-state parties to a conflict to access populations in need. 

Read the article

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