As humanitarian organisations committed to upholding humanitarian principles, we work to ensure that aid goes to all those who need it. Principled humanitarian action requires us to engage with all parties to a conflict so we can reach people most in need. To ensure that aid is not diverted or subject to any manipulation, we have developed rigorous checks and balances and are committed to upholding domestic and international laws and donor agreements that regulate our operations.
Yet humanitarian organisations and our staff are repeatedly facing stark and difficult choices as a result of counter-terrorism rules, legislation and sanctions. Increasing risk aversion by governments, donors and banks means that those most impacted by humanitarian crises risk losing access to aid by virtue of the same circumstances that have left them vulnerable. Humanitarian workers are at risk of civil and criminal charges simply for doing our jobs.
PHOTO: CARE/Lucy Beck
Humanity, impartiality and independence are critical operational principles that allow humanitarian organisations to gain and maintain the trust of all parties to a conflict, as well as the affected local communities. Counter-terrorism measures that do not allow principled humanitarian action can threaten humanitarian access and restrict principled engagement with non-state armed groups. In doing so, these measures increase delivery costs, affect program quality and efficiency, and risk staff security by creating perceptions that humanitarian organizations are not impartial, which in turn affects the lives of those in need if we can no longer reach them. For example, when operations to particular areas are abruptly halted or certain types of assistance are suddenly suspended on the basis of which party controls an area, the safety and security of our staff on the ground are compromised if their actions are seen as politically-motivated or partisan.
We therefore welcome efforts to re-examine and address the negative impacts of counter-terrorism measures on principled humanitarian action, including efforts within the UN Security Council to provide for humanitarian safeguards in Resolutions 2462 (on terrorism financing) and 2482 (on the relationship between terrorism and organised crime). We also welcome the improving dialogue between Member States, UN agencies and humanitarian organisations on these issues, and encourage more States to participate in efforts to ensure counter-terrorism measures comply with international humanitarian and human rights obligations.
These initiatives should be complemented by a renewed commitment to sustained, open and formal dialogue involving governments, donors, civil society, regulators, enforcement agencies and financial institutions. Regular interaction among this diverse group of stakeholders will help build understanding and trust among us and enable us to work in a more coordinated and coherent manner to serve those in need.
We welcome the UN General Assembly High Level Side Event, “UN Counter-Terrorism Frameworks and Sanctions Regimes: Safeguarding Humanitarian Space” taking place on 25 September 2019. Ahead of that meeting, Action Against Hunger, CARE, Concern Worldwide, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Save the Children would like to make the following recommendations to participating UN Member States and UN entities: