On April 19, 2010 a coalition of charitable, development, human rights and other organizations submitted a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling on the United States’ government to “re-assess its national security and counterterrorism laws as applied to civil society organizations.” The filing, part of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of the U.S. human rights record, recommended that U.S. laws and policy provide for “clear standards, fair redress procedures, and protection for humanitarian aid, charitable funds and free speech.”

The 24 organizations and experts that signed the submission said “U.S. security laws and policies create unnecessary and unreasonable barriers to the legitimate activities of civil society organizations.” These include rights to free speech and association “protected by international obligations of the U.S. government, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights. They are also protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and endorsed by the U.S. Department of State’s 2006 Guiding Principles on Non-Governmental Organizations.”

“The U.S. must align its human rights values with its security policies for charitable operations. This is not an either-or choice. Violating the basic rights of organizations that deliver essential services around the world only hurts U.S. efforts to make the world a safer place. U.S. charities stand ready to work with the administration and Congress to achieve sensible, practical solutions to the problems current policies create,” said Kay Guinane, a signatory who coordinates the Charity and Security Network.

The report provides a comprehensive examination of how U.S. counterterrorism policies are inconsistent with human rights principles. These include: 

  • There are no clear or reasonable standards for placing civil society organizations on terrorist watch lists, and there is no adequate redress process.

  • Once a U.S. civil society organization is placed on a terrorist watch list, it is shut down and funds are frozen, records and assets seized.

  • The definition of prohibited material support of terrorism is so broad that it criminalizes life-saving humanitarian aid and peacebuilding efforts.

  • Intimidation and harassment of donors

  • National security programs have been used for surveillance of U.S. advocacy and religious groups, especially those that openly dissent from government policies.

The report cites the following examples of how U.S. counterterrorism policies are inconsistent with human rights principles:

  • When acting in good faith and adhering to widely accepted due diligence standards, civil society organizations should be allowed to provide aid and services to those in need.

  • Civil society organizations should only be listed as terrorist organizations if they intentionally provide funds or material support to a listed terrorist group and do not meet the requirements of an adequate humanitarian exemption.

  • The U.S. should establish procedures that allow civil society organizations acting in good faith to address problems without being shut down.

  • When accusations are made against a civil society organization there should be adequate redress procedures, including notice of the allegations against it, opportunity to respond and independent review of an adverse decision.

  • Create a process for ensuring frozen funds are spent only for charitable purposes.

  • Donors are critical to the ability of civil society organizations to carry out their work. These donors require protection from ex post facto criminalization of legal donations and investigation, harassment or invasions of privacy for legal donations.

The Universal Periodic Review was created as a peer to peer review process in which countries review other countries’ human rights standards. This is the first review for the U.S. The U.S. government will submit its own report in August, and the review by the UN will be conducted in November 2010.  More information about the UPR process is available at the Charity and Security Network website.

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PDF icon UPR_Civil Society_Rights.pdf 371.91 KB
PDF icon State_Dept_Principles.pdf 73.77 KB