In 2021, C&SN secured a major legislative victory requiring Treasury to develop a strategy to address bank derisking, published a groundbreaking report documenting lawfare attacks against civil society groups operating in Palestine, and helped secure concrete commitments in the Biden administration’s U.S. sanctions policy review, among other accomplishments.
In January, C&SN released a memo to the transition team for the incoming Biden administration and new Congress titled Proposals for New Congress and Biden-Harris Administration to Support and Facilitate Humanitarian and Peacebuilding Operations Through Nongovernmental Organizations. It laid out concrete recommendations for the administration and Congress to protect and enable civil society operations abroad that are impacted by sanctions restrictions and the broad definition of material support of terrorism.
In January, C&SN achieved its first legislative victory with passage of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The new law requires the U.S. Treasury to develop a bank derisking strategy, undertake a formal review of the financial institution reporting requirements and propose changes to reduce unnecessarily burdensome requirements. It must consider the adverse consequences of derisking various groups, including charities, and the most appropriate ways to promote financial inclusion. It is the most comprehensive update to banking regulation since the passage of the PATRIOT Act. C&SN drafted the language on bank derisking and nonprofit organizations (NPOs) during the 116th Congress. Implementation of the various components will take place over the next two years.
As a centerpiece of our efforts to pushback against attacks on civil society, which often come in the form of disinformation and lawfare campaigns, C&SN published an in-depth report, entitled The Alarming Rise of Lawfare to Suppress Civil Society: The Case of Palestine and Israel, which detailed coordinated efforts by a range of faux think tanks, legal outfits, disinformation groups, and the Israeli government to distract, defund and delegitimize civil society groups working in Palestine or in support of Palestinian human needs and rights.
C&SN’s support to groups subject to legal attacks contributed to two legal victories: first, a civil suit against the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights under the Anti-Terrorism Act was dismissed for failure to state facts supporting the claim. Plaintiffs argued that, because USCPR acted as fiscal sponsor for the Boycott National Committee (BNC) in Palestine, it should be liable for damages and injuries caused by incendiary kites and balloons launched into Israel from Gaza by unknown parties because the BNC’s more than 170 members includes a coalition that includes Hamas, a listed terrorist organization. Second, a False Claims Act suit against the UK-based charity Christian Aid filed by the Zionist Advocacy Center, claimed it falsely signed the USAID anti-terrorism certification because it allegedly funded a local Lebanese charity that in turn worked with a listed group to provide vocational training. The case was dismissed by the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York due to lack of jurisdiction. (In both cases the plaintiffs have appealed.)
As part of our broader efforts to address the harmful impacts of counterterrorism laws on civil society operations, C&SN filed a joint amicus brief with InterAction in a lawsuit brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) that has implications for nonprofits working in areas where listed terrorist groups are active. C&SN also provided extensive input into the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Good Practices Memorandum for the Implementation of Countering the Financing of Terrorism Measures While Safeguarding Civic Space, published in September. The non-binding memorandum recognizes the key role civil society plays “in addressing conditions conducive to terrorism.” It recommends a risk-based, proportionate approach to counterterrorism that is consistent with states’ obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. C&SN also participated in the Financial Action Task Force’s consultations on the unintended consequences of measures to counter terrorism financing on nonprofit organizations, as part of the Global NPO Coalition on FATF. This input was reflected in FATF’s initial publication on the topic.
C&SN hosted a panel discussion on the 20-year anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of the Global War on Terror, which addressed the impacts of counterterrorism sanctions, “material support” laws, and bank de-risking on civil society organizations and called for a recalibration of U.S. policies.
In our work to address the impacts of sanctions on civil society organizations, in March, C&SN joined 55 organizations in a letter to President Biden regarding the administration’s review U.S. of sanctions policies, stressing the need to address impacts on humanitarian access and the global response to COVID-19 and outlining a series of recommendations to improve U.S. sanctions policy. In September, C&SN led another letter to the administration with 46 signers expressing concern at the lack of engagement with civil society during the review. That letter was covered in a Wall Street Journal article, which quoted C&SN Director Paul Carroll.
In response to the release of the review in October, C&SN’s Paul Carroll co-authored an op-ed with Megan Corrado of the Alliance for Peacebuilding in Just Security, critiquing the review’s failure to address other vital civil society programs such as peacebuilding and human rights, and encouraging Congress to take action. Despite its underwhelming scope and detail, the sanctions review did commit the administration to taking concrete steps, including tying sanctions to clear objectives, expanding sanctions exemptions to support the flow of humanitarian aid, and issuing general licenses as sanctions are implemented rather than after the fact. These commitments reflect some of the input C&SN and others offered during the course of the sanctions review, and represent an opportunity to hold the administration accountable for meeting these commitments.
C&SN also published an issue brief on the negative impacts of sanctions on civil society, and a white paper in collaboration with Charities Aid Foundation America offering an overview of U.S. sanctions, their impact on civil society, and tips for donors to navigate risk in sanctioned locations.