In August 2017, Chatham House’s International Security Department and International Law Programme issued a report — Recommendations for Reducing Tensions in the Interplay Between Sanctions, Counterterrorism Measures and Humanitarian Action — that identifies concrete ways for all stakeholders to address the issue.

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. Continuous engagement between the international, state, banking and humanitarian sectors is critical to alleviating the tension, the report states. It asserts that systematically adopted exemptions in UN and EU sanctions regimes are the most effective way to ensure that restrictions do not apply to humanitarian action. Currently, only one conflict-related UN Security Council sanctions regime includes this type of exemption.

Ideally, these tensions would be addressed at the international level which would, in turn, encourage global replication at the national level. Nonetheless, “the Security Council is an extremely cautious body and will not adopt an exemption of its own accord”. Therefore, change is more likely to occur if states adopt legislation that implements international obligations in domestic law. Additionally, states should frame counterterrorism offenses more narrowly to avoid the inclusion of humanitarian actions and should  conduct regular, critical reviews of counterterrorism measures. The report also suggests that humanitarian actors provide empirical information on the actual adverse impacts of sanctions and counterterrorism measures on their operations.

Equally concerning is the significant impact of banking-sector restrictions on humanitarian organizations, a result of banks’ avoidance of customers they deem high-risk in an effort to steer clear of anti-terrorist financing enforcement actions. Research conducted by Chatham House shows that in the UK, faith-based and particularly Muslim humanitarian organizations have been affected and experience “significant difficulties in accessing the financial services that are crucial to their capacity to fundraise, disburse funds and thus operate.” For banking restrictions to be reduced, humanitarian organizations and banks must increase bilateral engagement and states must play a more active role at the national and international levels.

Read the full report.