Publication date: 
Feb 2015

A new report provides compelling evidence of the broad and negative impact of terrorist listing on peace and conflict resolution efforts in some of the most difficult conflict settings around the world. Dr Teresa Dumasy examines the implications.

Two years ago, when Conciliation Resources suggested a Bond working group on the effects of counter-terrorism legislation on international NGOs, a number of concerned organisations came forward. The majority were engaged in humanitarian and relief work in some of the most difficult conflict-affected areas around the world; all were facing a multitude of practical and legal challenges.

The range of challenges reflects how, since 9/11, counter-terrorism legislation has permeated multiple areas of policy, legislation and practice. Charities have highlighted donors’ withdrawal of funding for work in high-risk areas; difficulties in accessing banking services and financial transfers; concerns about security of personnel; and fear of investigation and prosecution because of a lack of clarity about what constitutes ‘indirect support’ to a proscribed group under the law.

Banks are increasingly concerned about their own liability should money fall into the wrong hands and are therefore more averse to providing services to charities operating in high-risk areas. Perversely, as a Demos report last year found, this ‘de-risking’ process increases, rather than reduces security risks as it causes money to flow through informal, rather than official channels.

Conciliation Resources has found common cause with humanitarian charities on this issue; organisations involved in peace and mediation efforts also feel the effects of counter-terrorism legislation. In 2010, along with others, we highlighted the ramifications of a US Supreme Court ruling in the Holder vs Humanitarian Law Project case which made it illegal for US citizens or organisations to provide ‘expert advice’, ‘service’, ‘personnel’ or ‘training in human rights enforcement or peaceful conflict resolution’ to armed groups designated by the US Government as ‘terrorists’. Peacebuilders, humanitarian workers and human rights advocates can face up to 15 years in prison in effect for promoting peace.

A new report provides compelling evidence of the broad and negative impact of terrorist listing on peace and conflict resolution efforts in some of the most difficult conflict settings around the world.

Based on in-depth studies of Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian territories, and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, Building Peace in Permanent War* stresses that ‘rather than simply shrinking or reducing the space available for peacebuilding, terrorist listing is re-shaping peacebuilding practices in novel and disturbing ways’. In addition to prompting risk-mitigation measures, such as ‘withdrawing from contact with, and guarding against proximity to, listed groups’, ‘terrorist listing strongly influences how, when and if conflict transformation principles are put into practice’.

Based on the evidence, the authors go on to claim that, far from being ‘unintended consequences’ of sanctions regimes aimed at terrorist groups, these adverse consequences are in fact ‘foreseeable effects’ of counter-terrorism measures explicitly designed to cast a wide net to target those with any social affiliation or indirect association with a designated party.

Why should we talk to armed groups?

As we have highlighted in the past, engagement with armed groups and their formal and informal constituencies in dialogue, including those designated as ‘terrorists’, can be an essential part of exploring, encouraging and finding alternatives to violence. It can help understand and address the underlying causes of conflict and extremism, and can strengthen moderate, pro-dialogue elements within a group. Talking does not necessarily legitimise a group or its tactics, and is not the same as negotiation. Peacebuilding organisations are uniquely positioned to complement channels of formal diplomacy.

Furthermore, as our forthcoming Accord Insight publication will show, local communities can also play vital roles in reaching out to armed groups to initiate dialogue and explore opportunities for peace. They bear the major brunt of violence and have the greatest stake in peace. While international actors feel the impact of counter-terrorism legislation, communities living in close proximity to a group are far more vulnerable, particularly to prosecution under national legislation prompted sometimes by dubious political motives.

We are not alone in making the case for engagement. Jonathan Powell, author of Talking to Terrorists, How to end Armed Conflicts, states that ‘it is a question of when, not whether, you talk. If there is a political cause then there has to be a political solution.’ Former HM Ambassador to Kabul and UK Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, asserted in his evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2011 that ‘the central lesson I took away from my three and a half years working in and on Afghanistan is that it is a political problem that needs political treatment and a political process … there will be a negotiated end to this conflict, as to all conflicts.’

Unburdening peace

Disentangling dialogue and peacebuilding efforts from the web of counter-terrorism and security responses is a daunting prospect. A recommendation in the report published on 25 February by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill offers one starting point; the Committee acknowledged the problems caused by anti-terrorism legislation for charities working in conflict zones, and called on the Government to explore an exception on the ban on ‘indirect support’ to proscribed groups for those organisations providing humanitarian relief. BOND’s Chief Executive Ben Jackson responded with a recommendation that this exemption be extended to peace organisations.

In his most recent report in July 2014, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, advised that international NGOs and policymakers explore together how the objectives of anti-terrorism laws can be met ‘without unnecessarily prejudicing the ability of NGOs to deliver humanitarian aid, capacity-building and peacebuilding in parts of the world where designated groups are active.’ Along with partner organisations, we are pursuing ways to achieve this.

Building Peace in Permanent War provides new evidence of the impact of terrorist listing and points to the need for a more fundamental and honest debate on what and who it takes to secure lasting peace, and the political and legal obstacles to doing so.

By Dr. Teresa Dumasy, Head of Policy and Learning, Conciliation Resources tdumasy@c-r.org


* Boon-Kuo, L., Hayes, B., Sentas, V and Sullivan, G. (2015). Building Peace in Permanent War: Terrorist Listing & Conflict Transformation. London; Amsterdam: International State Crime Initiative; Transnational Institute. The report was funded by the Berghof Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. It is the outcome of a partnership between the International State Crime Initiative and the Transnational Institute.

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