MFAN Partner Explores Roadblocks for Humanitarian Aid Workers

Last week Sarah Margon, MFAN partner and associate director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress (CAP), published a report titled “Unintended Roadblocks: How U.S. Terrorism Restrictions make it harder to Save Lives.” The report found that over the past decade the work of a number of foreign aid groups has been restricted by U.S. counterterrorism processes. Margon argues these humanitarian groups are in no way trying to support terrorism, but with the ambiguously defined laws they are subjected to under U.S. regulations, it makes it extremely difficult to provide assistance to areas such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result of the lack of clear guidance from the U.S. government, the impact overseas includes an inability to reach hundreds of thousands of people in need and delayed delivery of services, among other limitations.

The report lays out the foundation for the terrorist-designation process and provides legal and practical implications of these regulations. While Margon shows that the limitations make it extremely difficult to provide assistance to vulnerable populations in places where terrorists are located, she highlights a new development. Recently, the Administration decided to designate only senior leaders of a deadly insurgent group – the Haqqani network – as terrorists rather than the entire network, providing an example of positive movement towards flexibility in the designation process. The report concludes by explaining the challenges aid groups are facing and how they deal with them, and proposes a list of recommendations of the ways in which current roadblocks could be improved, including to:

  • Ensure USAID participates in all U.S. terrorist designations
  • Amend the International Emergency Economic Powers Act
  • Amend the material support statute
  • Amend Executive Order 13324 and related orders
  • Expedite the issuance blanket licenses for urgent cases
  • Scrap the partner vetting system
  • Consult regularly with nongovernmental organizations to determine the likely impact of any terrorist designation
  • Compile empirical data for a report that would examine how field operations are affected by current laws and policies and whether the current approach to terrorist designations is the most appropriate tool
  • Craft a more flexible policy framework

Read or download the full report here.


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