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

Treasury Releases Informational Licensing Guidance for Humanitarian NGOs

October 17, 2014

On Oct. 17, 2014 the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a document titled Guidance Related to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistance by Not for Profit Non-Governmental Organizations.

The two-page document provides some clarification of the status quo without making substantive changes called for by the nonprofit sector or committing to specific actions OFAC may take to address systemic problems with its licensing system. It does not address the problems the State Department's involvement in licensing creates, including delays and politicization of humanitarian decisions.

In addition, the document clearly states that it is for informational purposes only and does not have the force of law. It does not address the needs of development, peacebuilding, human rights or other types of nonprofit programs abroad.

While clarifications from OFAC are welcome, the overall thrust of the document is to restate existing policies and provide assurances that have no legal force.  The most positive view is that it is a good beginning for a dialog between OFAC, the State Department and the nonprofit sector on the next phase of improvements needed.

For background information see U.S. Civil Society Submission to the UN Human Rights Commission, Sept. 15, 2014, describing human rights problems with the licensing system.

Treasury’s Informational Licensing Guidance for Humanitarian NGOs Falls Short

Date: 
October 24, 2014

On Oct. 17, 2014 the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released Guidance Related to the Provision of Humanitarian Assistnace by Not for Profit Non-Governmenal Organizations, intended to provide clarification for nonprofits seeking licenses for activities that would otherwise be prohibited by economic sanctions programs.

New Interactive Map Highlights Humanitarian Crises Where Terror Groups Operate

An interactive map on our website has been completely overhauled and updated. Mapping Listed Terrorist Groups and Humanitarian Crises features a map with links to information on countries where there are both humanitarian crises and terrorist groups listed by the U.S. government. 

Individual country pages include recent background on the crisis, brief summaries of listed terrorist groups operating in that country, and links to recent news articles and other resources. 

Eleven countries are highlighted on the map: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Chad, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Palestine, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. A linkable list of those same countries is provided below the map for ease of use. 

Understanding Humanitarian Exemptions

Principled humanitarian action can be restricted by sanctions in regimes in a number of ways, notably via UN sanctions programs and state-level laws criminalizing the provision of material support of terrorism. When humanitarian organizations need to pay taxes, registration fees or checkpoint fees to access populations in need, they may run afoul of these laws if they are paid to a terrorist organization or its affiliate. Other humanitarian aid activities that potentially violate counterterrorism provisions include visits to detainees, first aid training and provision of assistance, just to name a few.

The term “humanitarian exemption” can relate to two different concepts, as described in a new briefing paper by the Harvard Law School Program on International Law and Armed Conflict, Understanding Humanitarian Exemptions: UN Security Council Sanctions and Principled Humanitarian Action. These exemptions can apply to listed individuals who need humanitarian assistance or to humanitarian organizations and actors. The latter allows these actors to “deliver their services without the risk of contravening those regimes,” the paper explains.  Read more

Abstract: Understanding Humanitarian Exemptions

Date: 
May 11, 2016
Author: 

Principled humanitarian action can be restricted by sanctions in regimes in a number of ways, notably via UN sanctions programs and state-level laws criminalizing the provision of material support of terrorism. When humanitarian organizations need to pay taxes, registration fees or checkpoint fees to access populations in need, they may run afoul of these laws if they are paid to a terrorist organization or its affiliate.

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