Report: How Counterterrorism Laws Affect Humanitarian Aid Operations

Laws imposed by some donor countries that criminalize financial and material support to terrorist groups tend to undermine humanitarian groups and their aid operations in developing countries, according to a new report from the Overseas Development Institute, a U.K.-based think tank.

“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 organizations in general,” the report says, according to the Guardian, “and could become an additional factor in the unraveling of the legitimacy and acceptance of humanitarian response in many of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”

ODI identified some laws set by the United State as among the most problematic for humanitarian aid groups who work in Somalia and the Gaza Strip, among other conflict-torn developing countries. The think tank noted that while there have been few prosecutions so far under U.S. counterterrorism laws, “the threat of criminal sanction will continue to undermine humanitarian operations, at least until there is a greater clarity on the interpretation and application of the laws to humanitarian operations.”

Several international aid groups, including Oxfam, have been urging the U.S. and other donors to relax some of their counterterrorism and security rules to faciliate humanitarian work in conflict-torn countries, particularly in famine-hit Somalia, where the militant al-Shabab group controls the majority of the most affected regions.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.