Monday, October 17, 2011

Anti-terrorism law leads to fear of prosecution for aid groups

Another report released today shows some of the dangerous effects that anti-terrorism laws have for the people that have to live in areas under terrorist control. The US Law puts stiff penalties and jail time to any aid group found assisting terrorist organizations. That has forced many NGOs to stop giving aid to the people in areas controlled by the terrorists.

From the Guardian, writer Mark Tran takes a look at the report from the Overseas Development Institute.

The ODI also found that the administrative burden imposed by counter-terrorism legislation has affected the timeliness and efficiency of humanitarian aid, and can even deter relief groups operating in high-risk areas. In the case of Somalia, where famine has been declared in six regions this year, ODI said funding had declined by half betwen 2008 and 2011, mainly as a result of a drop in American contributions following legislation in the US.

In Gaza, where Hamas has been designated a terrorist group by the US and the EU, a number of NGOs have been forced to limit or suspend their operations. The situation for NGOs has been complicated by a requirement from the interior ministry in Gaza for an NGO registration fee. It is unclear whether payment of the fee could be seen as providing "material support" to Hamas as it would benefit from this revenue.

In Somalia, where al-Shabaab militants are in control in famine-struck regions, Ofac has said that non-USAid partners can work without a licence and that "incidental benefits" to al-Shabaab are not its focus. But aid groups say the statement has created confusion as it is neither a firm guarantee that Ofac will not take action in the future, nor does it bar prosecution under US criminal law.

"Rigid and over-zealous application of counter-terrorism laws to humanitarian action in conflict not only limits its reach … but undermines the independence and neutrality of humanitarian organisations in general," said ODI, "and could become an additional factor in the unravelling of the legitimacy and acceptance of humanitarian response in many of the world's worst humanitarian crises."

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