Counterterrorism and humanitarian action

by Norwegian Refugee Council | Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
Friday, 1 November 2013 10:04 GMT

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Counterterrorism measures must not compromise principled humanitarian action, argued Secretary General Jan Egeland at panel debate in Washington.

NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland joined a panel hosted by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) with the head of US sanctions policy, Daniel Fried, former US Ambassador to the DRC, William Garvelink, and UN Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos. The panel was organised to discuss the findings of an independent study on the impact of counterterrorism measures on principled humanitarian action, which was commissioned by NRC and OCHA.

“How can we work together to mitigate the unintended consequences of all this?”, asked Egeland, before urging donors and humanitarian actors to intensify their dialogue to balance two legitimate imperatives: combating terrorism on the one hand, and providing principled humanitarian assistance on the other.

While echoing his US counterparts’ recognition of their shared interest in protecting people from harm and preventing the diversion of aid to terrorists, Egeland highlighted some of the unintended and counterproductive consequences of counterterrorism measures for humanitarian action. These included a disproportionate impact on Islamic NGOs, “dangerous” material support clauses which restrict doctors providing care to wounded combatants, and probing partner vetting schemes, which forced NRC to decline US$2 million of US funding last month. Providing sensitive information about local partners to the US government would have unacceptably compromised the organisation’s neutrality, he explained.

He acknowledged, however, that humanitarian organisations need to be better at explaining their existing due diligence processes, in order to reassure donors that credible measures to prevent aid diversion are in place.

“We want to be able to work on solutions in a practical way", said Ambassador Fried, giving the US government’s official response to the NRC/OCHA-commissioned study.

To this end, Egeland urged the US government to grant timely exemptions so humanitarian actors can assist those in greatest need, particularly in extreme contexts such as Syria. Ambassador Garvelink suggested the US could consider a fast-track licensing system in these scenarios.

Both Egeland and Amos welcomed the opportunity to engage with policymakers representing the world’s largest humanitarian donor (the US contributed US$4.3 billion globally in 2011). But they emphasised the need to expand the dialogue to include other donors – the UK, the EU and Australia among them – to find workable solutions to the challenges their counterterrorism measures pose to principled humanitarian action.

Following the panel event, Egeland continued the dialogue with US policymakers and representatives of the Washington-based humanitarian community in private meetings, as part of NRC’s broader programme of work on counter-terrorism measures and humanitarian action.

For more information visit the CSIS website.

Follow @nrc_norway and @CSIS for updates, #CSISLive.


Introductory Remarks by:

Sam Worthington
President & CEO, InterAction

Panel Discussion:

Valerie Amos
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations

Jan Egeland
Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council

Ambassador Daniel Fried
Coordinator of Sanctions Policy, U.S. State Department

Ambassador William Garvelink
Senior Adviser, CSIS Project on U.S. Leadership in Development and Former U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Moderated by:

Daniel Runde
Director of the Project on Prosperity and Development and William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Analysis, CSIS