Criminalizing Humanitarian Engagement

HPCR initiated the “Criminalizing Humanitarian Engagement” Project after recognizing that the humanitarian community faced increasingly difficult challenges based on the proliferation of counterterrorism laws and regulations that have a capacity to affect the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The “Criminalizing Humanitarian Engagement” Project aims, at the outset, to more fully identify the trajectories underlying these challenges through scientific research, policy assessments, and multilateral engagements. HPCR hosted a Senior Law and Policy Workshop on the topic in November 2010, and has constituted a Working Group of select practitioners and scholars to provide a platform for information sharing and informal discussion of challenges and opportunities.

This February 2011 Working Paper presents HPCR’s analysis to date on dilemmas arising from the intersection between, on the one hand, counterterrorism laws and policies prohibiting engagement with certain nonā€state entities and, on the other, humanitarian access and protection of civilians in armed conflict. This Working Paper aims to provide HPCR’s initial analysis of these dilemmas and to suggest key areas for future research and policy engagement.


Download the HPCR Working Paper here.

Counterterror Regulations

Terrorist Material Support: An Overview of 18 U.S.C. 2339A and 2339B

Jul 19 2010 | ( Charles Doyle )
Congressional Research Service

This document examines the status and scope of the U.S. material-support statute, identifying the types of activities that are banned, by whom, and where committed. The report also summarizes the Holder v. HLP case.

Somalia Famine: Aid Groups Say U.S. Anti-Terror Laws Are Still Holding Them Back

Aug 18 2011 | ( Joshua Hersh )
Huffington Post

This article discusses how "[a]id workers struggling to combat the massive famine in Somalia say that complex American counter-terrorism rules are still impeding the delivery of aid to the region, despite recent efforts to ease those restrictions."

Criminalising the Enemy and its Impact on Humanitarian Action

Jul 28 2011 | ( Fabrice Weissman )
Journal of Humanitarian Assistance

This essay argues that "[c]ountering the rhetoric that denies the right to provide aid impartially to all victims of a conflict, including when they are on the “wrong side” of the front line requires being transparent and articulated."

Humanitarian Law & Policy

Counter-terrorism and humanitarian action: Tensions, impact and ways forward

Oct 17 2011 | ( Sara Pantuliano, Kate Mackintosh and Samir Elhawary (with Victoria Metcalf) )
HPG Policy Brief 43

This HPG Policy Brief examines how counter-terrorism laws and other measures have had profound effects on humanitarian action.

Geneva Convention IV

Aug 12 1949 |

This international convention provides the basic framework applicable to entities engaged in humanitarianism in international armed conflicts. Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 provides the basic framework applicable to armed conflicts not of an international character. 

AID POLICY: Crippled by counter-terrorism laws

Oct 20 2011 | ( IRIN News )

This articles examines how counter-terrorism laws "have entangled humanitarian organizations in a web of regulations and requirements, which add to their costs, slow down their transactions, and sow distrust between them and their local partners."

Additional Assessments

Unintended Roadblocks: How U.S. Terrorism Restrictions Make It Harder to Save Lives

Nov 1 2011 | ( Sarah Margon )
Center for American Progress

This paper provides aims to provide background on the terrorist-designation process. It also explores the corollary mechanisms—such as USAID’s growing information databases—that are increasingly billed as critical antiterrorism tools but appear only tangentially related, and it concludes with policy recommendations.

International Humanitarian Law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflict

Oct 1 2011 | ( International Committee of the Red Cross )
INTRAC Briefing Paper

Section VI (pp. 48-53) identifies a range of concerns from the ICRC's perspective regarding a conflation of the legal framework governing counter-terrorism with IHL.

Humanitarianism as Terrorism

Jul 21 2011 | ( Joanne Mariner )
Verdict Blog

The articles discusses how "[e]xtremely broad U.S. legal restrictions on providing “material support” to terrorist organizations have made humanitarian groups fearful of operating in Shabaab-controlled regions out of concern that any aid leakage could put them at risk of criminal prosecution for terrorism."