In the last decade, following the attacks on September 11th, 2001, there has been a proliferation of counter terrorism legislation. Most notably the Patriot Act, but many such others have been drafted and passed. A large focus of these laws is to reduce the effectiveness of terrorist organizations by cutting them off from international aid.
There is a side effect though to this crackdown on organizations designated as terrorist, especially in regions where those organizations have control. In Gaza for example, where a rift in the Palestinian government has led to Hamas control of the region, international funding has all but evaporated, due to the labeling of Hamas as a terrorist organization. This isn’t due to the money not being available or no one being willing to assist with humanitarian issues in the region, but rather because a large number of counter-terrorism measures have attached strings to donations.
Examples include an NGO that was prohibited from distributing food because the ministry of social affairs required it to share its beneficiary list, and, as this would constitute a connection to Hamas, the donor wouldn’t authorize it. Similarly, a school project was blocked because the headmaster at the school was viewed to be too senior in the Hamas administration. By placing conditions on the distribution of aid, or prohibiting any connection to a terrorist organization, in a region dominated by that organization, these counter-terrorism laws are preventing many NGOs from securing funding. The first concern for them now is to avoid association with the terrorist organization, and only then can humanitarian action be taken. Or, as more often happens, local NGOs simply refuse funding from external donors, as conditions can’t be met.
Somalia has seen a similar decline in aid, for similar reasons. Kate Mackintosh, co-author of a report commissioned by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, says, ‘We did find negative impacts on humanitarian activities, as restriction of funding, blocking of projects and self-censorship by International Organizations and NGOs. After 2008, for example, when the US listed al-Shabaab as a terrorist group, we saw an 88% decrease in aid to Somalia, between 2008 and 2010.’
While counter-terrorism measures are a sad reality of our time, what needs to be reviewed is their impact on humanitarian aid. These laws need to make exceptions to avoid having a negative impact on aid organizations and allow them to operate with the needs of beneficiaries foremost.
– David M Wilson