Washington, D.C., March 24, 2021 — Tomorrow marks the 6th anniversary of the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen. As a direct result of the war, Yemen has for years now been home to the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet. Among the most significant contributors to this crisis are a range of impediments to humanitarian aid and access across Yemen. Humanitarian access has been curtailed and threatened by military activities on both sides of the conflict, by the U.S.-backed blockade of Yemen, and by U.S. counterterrorism policies that disrupt civil society programs operating abroad.
“The most obvious way to improve humanitarian access across Yemen is to end the war, and it is incumbent on all parties and international backers, including the U.S., to pursue good faith diplomacy to achieve a lasting peace,” said Paul Carroll, Director of the Charity & Security Network. “Lifting the blockade of Yemen, which has proven more effective in blocking aid than blocking arms shipments into the country, is essential as well.”
The recent designation of the Houthis in Yemen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) also threatened humanitarian access in Yemen.
“The Houthi terror designations were a troubling but revealing case study on the harm that U.S. counterterrorism policies can inflict on civil society programs,” said Carroll. “When the U.S. issues terror designations, overly broad prohibitions of ‘material support’ enshrined in counterterrorism laws can force nonprofit peacebuilding and aid groups to reduce or cease their operations while they work to make sense of what is and isn’t allowed. That’s exactly what happened in Yemen after the Houthi designations, and Yemenis in desperate need of aid paid the price.”
The Biden administration ultimately reversed the Houthi designations, but even their relatively short lifespan was enough to impact civil society operations in Yemen. While the reversal alleviated some concerns around humanitarian access in Yemen, they did nothing to address the underlying problems with the material support statutes that still leave civil society groups unsure of their footing in conflict zones around the world.
“When something as incidental as paying a road toll to access people in need could constitute material support, it’s clear that counterterrorism laws are in need of some attention,” Carroll added.
A recent Charity & Security Network report details how the Biden administration and Congress can both work to improve U.S. policies to better support peacebuilding and humanitarian operations through nongovernmental organizations.
The Charity & Security Network is a resource and advocacy center working to promote and protect the ability of nonprofit organizations to carry out peacebuilding, humanitarian, and human rights missions and to advance national security frameworks that support rather than impede this work. Learn more about the Charity & Security Network’s work at www.CharityAndSecurity.org, and follow us on Twitter: @CharitySecurity.