We work with other NGOs, banks and the government to explore and find solutions to the impact UK counter-terrorism legislation and sanctions have on the work of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding organisations working in high-risk areas. And we connect with other international initiatives seeking the same goals.
The UK Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act
This legislation was introduced to parliament for debate in 2018. It included a provision which gives the Home Secretary the power to designate a country, or region of a country, and make it an offence for UK nationals and residents to enter or remain in that area. Potential areas for designation are those beset with violent conflict, where people are in urgent need of support.
The measure meant that a UK-based peacebuilder visiting one of those areas could face police investigation or even prosecution on their return. In addition, it would make banks reluctant to provide NGOs with financial services if they worked in those areas.
We played a leading role in pressing the government to accept explicit exemptions for humanitarian, peacebuilding and development support. As a result of coordinated and persistent efforts, an amendment creating an exemption for ‘aid of a humanitarian nature’ was adopted and included in the final Act, and the Government provided explicit assurances that peacebuilding constitutes a ‘reasonable excuse’ for travel.
A network of NGOs working in high-risk contexts
Since 2012, Conciliation Resources has been chairing a Bond Working Group, which acts as a hub for UK-based NGOs working in high-risk contexts concerned by the negative impact of sanctions and counter-terrorism legislation.
We are also playing a leading role in a formal dialogue process with the government, banks and NGOs on the problem of getting funds to areas where sanctions apply or proscribed groups operate. The dialogue is seeking ways to reduce the increasing problem of bank ‘de-risking’, whereby NGOs working in these areas experience delays or blockages in transferring funds, closure of bank accounts, or are unable to operate within the restrictive legal environment. We also support related international initiatives through our insights and learning.
Raising the political appetite and options for engagement with armed groups
Our work on attitudes towards engagement with armed groups aims to increase political appetite for engagement, including with groups listed as terrorists.
We push for a more strategic policy approach and for increased public discussion around engaging with armed groups, informed by the realities of peacebuilding. We also encourage greater consideration of the effectiveness and impact of proscription.
Proscription, or the act of putting an armed group on a list of designated terrorist organisations – remains a key obstacle in the positive engagement of armed groups. It can reduce the willingness of armed groups to accept mediation and find compromises. Due to the threat of prosecution or reputational damage for ‘providing material support to terrorists’, it can also deter peacebuilding organisations from creating opportunities to discuss peaceful solutions to conflict.
We communicate with mediators, civil society experts and counter-terrorism professionals through advocacy networks to make the case for engagement and highlight the negative impacts of proscription on peacebuilding, and push for greater clarity on the rules governing its application.