We welcome the strong condemnation of countries’ onerous counterterrorism measures by UN Special Rapporteur Agnès Callamard in her report, Saving Lives Is Not A Crime. Callamard notes that the broad policies and vague definitions of “terrorism” have provoked “chilling effects on the provision of humanitarian aid for people desperately in need of help.” She condemns anti-terrorist financing 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 working abroad are facing problems accessing financial services due to bank derisking.

This UN Report emphasizes the increasing threat that NPOs are forced to operate under in order to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance abroad. Her report comes at a crucial time. Over the past months, the Charity & Security Network has observed increasing political, legal and fiscal barriers that civil society organizations face while trying to provide humanitarian assistance in conflict zones overseas. Earlier this month, we disclosed news of a mounting legal intimidation campaign against NPOs working in conflict zones. Lawyers with an anti-Muslim agenda are using a whistleblower provision in a US anti-fraud law to penalize organizations seeking to provide life-saving resources to individuals in the West Bank and Gaza based on spurious allegations. These suits (David Abrams of the Zionist Advocacy Center indicated there are at least four more cases developing) fuel a sense of insecurity and uncertainty for NPOs operating under USAID grant partnerships. Similarly, IRIN News reported how new compliance requirements for USAID partners working in Syria are creating further barriers to their work. While USAID has reauthorized its partners’ use of the Bab al-Hawa (BAH) border crossing between Syria and Turkey since October 5, the impact of such blocks continues. Indeed, some NPOs have had to assess whether it is worth receiving grant money from USAID if such a partnership comes with increased risks of lawsuits, costly programming delays, and political scrutiny. Callamard reflects on the global struggles for international NGOs in her report: “There is a sense of an international counter-terrorism regime out of control, its tentacles reaching every corner of political, financial and civic life.”

The importance of USA’s contribution to the international humanitarian sector should not be understated. The current administration’s limits to foreign aid are predicted to have devastating effects across the world. In late August, the White House announced its decisions to cut $200 million in funding to international NGO programs that provide essential services, including clean water, food, education and medical services, to Palestinians in addition to the cessation of funding to UNRWA, the UN agency tasked with providing humanitarian relief and development aid and to protect the rights of Palestinian refugees across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the West Bank and Gaza. Such measures not only impede the provision of essential resources to vulnerable individuals, but they also suggest a dangerous implication that human life does not carry the same importance as politics.

The UN report includes a number of important recommendations to the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council. Interestingly, Callamard also issues recommendations to the NPO community itself, advocating for “humanitarian actors [to] 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.” As an organization dedicated to advocacy, the Charity & Security Network is committed to fostering dialogue between governing bodies, our partners and the civil society sector (learn more about the Global NPO Coalition on FATF). It is essential that governments hear our unified voices and calls for reform in order to understand the serious barriers that non-profit organizations face. We welcome participation from all members of civil society.

Read more about the full UN report.

Read more about the UN Report from our partners at IRIN News.

Julia Cripps