On May 5, 2023, the Charity & Security Network (C&SN), in partnership with the Alliance for Peacebuilding (AfP) and the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), presented at PeaceCon 2023 a session titled “The Tea on Material Support Ban to Terrorist Organizations: It Undermines Peacebuilding – Time for a New Approach to Prevent Conflict and Address Violent Extremism.”

The session recording can be viewed above, and the presentation slides are available to download.

PeaceCon is an annual conference held by AfP which brings together local, national, regional, and international peacebuilding practitioners; senior government officials; thought leaders; academics; and policymakers; to explore how peacebuilding must evolve to address rising violent conflicts and fragile contexts through a series of interactive panels and events. The theme of this year was Beyond Fragile Ground: New Peacebuilding Architectures for Today and the Future.

The C&SN co-led session provided a historical overview of the United States (U.S.)  “material support” statute, the problems it poses for peacebuilders looking to engage all sides of a conflict, with particular attention paid to the negative impacts on women peacebuilders and women-led peacebuilding organizations, and pathways for addressing the issue at a policy and legislative level. 

C&SN was founded as a response to overly broad counterterrorism measures legislated in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

C&SN’s Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery, Associate Director, Policy & Advocacy, highlighted that under U.S. law, providing “material support” to a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) is prohibited under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). This broadly defined statute was intended to prevent the spread of terrorism and to provide justice for victims of terrorism. Unfortunately, it has resulted in adverse effects to critical peacebuilding processes that prevent and address the root causes of terrorism because it prohibits communications or engagements with listed FTOs, even if these interactions are part of peacebuilding processes.

The first and only Supreme Court case dealing with the overbroad nature of the scope and definition and its impact on civil society came in 2010 with Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (HLP). The Supreme Court ruled against HLP – who sought to provide peacebuilding and UN conflict resolution trainings, in addition to trainings on other nonviolent means for conflict resolution to two FTOs – and as a result activities and engagement such as  “attempts at peacebuilding and support of nonviolence” with FTOs remained prohibited under the material support statute. 

Despite widespread outcry over the bottlenecking and chilling effects the sweeping definition and scope placed on peacebuilding organizations (who often work in close proximity to FTOs), and to civilians forced to live under FTO-controlled territory, through no fault or choice of their own, Holder v. HLP was the last meaningful action taken on the material support statute.

The panel was moderated by France Bognon, Esq., Program Director at ICAN, where she manages the Innovative Peace Fund (IPF). Expert speakers from the IPF gave country-specific context and examples demonstrating how the material support statute impacts their organizations’ peacebuilding programs:

Building on C&SN’s discussion in the historical overview section, these speakers highlighted the particularly gendered impacts the statute has on women and women-led civil society organizations (CSOs). Listen to their full remarks in the upcoming recording (to be posted as soon as available).

Finally, Megan Corrado, AfP’s Director, Policy & Advocacy discussed the extensive policy and legislative solutions CSOs have developed and advocated for since the Holder v. HLP case, providing examples from 2011 – present. She laid out where these started, where we are today, and where we ideally go from here.

C&SN, AfP, ICAN, and partner organizations have long advocated on the issue to multiple U.S. administrations, supported by numerous CSOs, faith leaders, UN Special Rapporteurs, and government officials – including former President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center has been adversely impacted by the overbroad prohibition on material support. 

Ironically, the material support statute actually undermines U.S. legislation intended to promote peacebuilding and conflict resolution, such as the Global Fragility Act (GFA), the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Act, and the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act (EWGAPA), all of which promote conflict prevention and grassroots engagement with all sides of a violent conflict.

C&SN will continue to monitor and advocate for civil society protections from the material support statute, with the understanding that peacebuilding driven by grassroots CSOs actually shares a mutually reinforcing goal and common aim with stated national security objectives: addressing the root causes of conflict and creating a safe world for all.