Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) and One Earth Future Foundation have released a 92-page final working paper providing a way forward for implementing the Global Fragility Act (GFA). Getting From Here to There: Successful Implementation of the Global Fragility Act is still a working paper and will be released in final form shortly, according to AfP.

The Global Fragility Act (Act) is intended to change the way U.S. foreign policy treats fragile and conflict-affected states and increases investment in preventing global violence. It charges the U.S. government with creating a Global Fragility Strategy (Strategy) by September 2020. This recent paper, released May 12, 2020, follows on the heels of another GFA implementation paper by MercyCorps in April.

A statement issued with the paper’s release notes that since the first release of the draft report in March 2020, “we know the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health crisis, but essentially a ‘stabilization in reverse’ – upending governance, economies, and human and food security globally. The challenges facing the development, humanitarian and peacebuilding sectors globally are significant, complex, and interconnected. It is critical now more than ever to understand and begin applying the principles in the GFA that call for a multisectoral integrated approach that ensures peacebuilding and conflict prevention are at the center of the pandemic response strategy.

The AfP report provides challenges, opportunities, recommendations and specific examples “that must be addressed in the strategy, operations, and ten-year country plans,” the report states. These recommendations come from a review of existing empirical research, consultations with government and nongovernmental stakeholders, a series of workshops, and data analysis.

The report makes 14 key recommendations, including “Consultations with civil society must be inclusive, transparent, credible, early, innovative, and often”; use data-driven methods for the selection of priority countries and regions; and ensure that countering and preventing violent extremism programs are evidence-based and there is a legislative fix for the material support laws.

Material Support Fix

Once good evidence-based strategies to prevent and counter violent extremism are developed, there remains the question of how to implement them. U.S. laws currently impose severe restrictions on material support for violent extremism, the report states. The criminal prohibition is so broadly defined that “it limits effective programmatic approaches to addressing violent conflict,” the report explains, adding, “Without a change to these restrictive laws, vital nonviolent efforts by the U.S. government, nonprofit organizations and other implementing partners working to prevent violent extremism and support peace processes will continue to be hampered.”

Sixteen years have passed since Congress last addressed the substance of the material support definition. Since then, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that the prohibition bars all forms of communication or engagement with Foreign Terrorist Organizations named by the Secretary of State, “even when those communications are part of peace processes or demobilization, demilitarization and rehabilitation (DDR) programs,” the report explains. In addition, most terrorism-related Executive Orders issued under sanctions authority include a prohibition on material support without defining the term, resulting in a default to the criminal law definition. Therefore, the problems this creates in the counterterrorism arena are carried over to the sanctions context.

The report goes on to explain that the community-focused approach to PVE, for example, involves working in communities where violent extremist groups recruit their members. “It’s easy for activities identified as best practice by the research to fall afoul of the laws preventing material support. While these laws were not designed to limit programs designed to end conflict, reduce violence, and build sustainable peace, they are having that effect,” the report explains. It goes on to list the specific problems with the prohibition:

  • National security threats have evolved but the law has not
  • The OFAC licensing process is unworkable
  • The vetting process is increasingly draconian and expensive

Finally, the report notes, a legislative fix is consistent with Congressional intent, and can be built upon the GFA. “It is possible to craft legislative solutions that provide mechanisms that limit the risk of these programs but do not prevent the work,” the report explains.

Because this is a working paper, comments or responses are encouraged. Those may be submitted to lhume@allianceforpeacebuilding.org and/or dcseyle@oneearthfuture.org.

Read the working paper.