Photo: NRC

Civilians pay the price of terrorism twice

Published 13. Jun 2018|Edited 12. Jun 2018
Counterterrorism measures often obstruct humanitarian organisations from accessing people in need, according to a new study by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). As states step up their fight against terrorism, people who need life-saving assistance are paying a high price.


“As humanitarians, we often witness how terrorists ruthlessly attack civilians. We all need to prevent any and all forms of terrorism. But too often the legislation aimed at countering terrorism has had the unintended consequence of making it more difficult and dangerous to aid and protect victims of terror,” said Jan Egeland, NRC’s Secretary-General.

 “Legislators need to know their laws may hurt the victims of terror a second time by preventing us from helping them,” he added.

 Humanitarian action requires engagement with all parties to a conflict in order to reach communities in need. However, as states continue the fight against terrorism, humanitarian organisations have to comply with an increasingly complex counterterrorism legal environment.

 The study “Principles under pressure”, released Wednesday, shows that as humanitarian organisations strive to comply with counterterrorism measures, they often avoid areas controlled by designated terrorist groups, instead of engaging in negotiations for access.

For example, in north east Nigeria, it was clear that people in some areas did not receive the necessary life-saving assistance because humanitarian organisations limited their programs to government-held areas.

Banks refusing to provide services for organisations owing to their concerns about counterterrorist financing regulation represents another major hurdle to principled humanitarian action. Organisations report that they are unable to transfer money to certain areas, including parts of Syria, causing them to use informal, unregulated methods, such as hawala or cash-carrying.

“As impartial, neutral and independent organisations it is our job to provide relief to civilian men, women and children who are affected by conflict, whether they happen to live in government-controlled, terrorist-controlled or disputed areas,” said Egeland.

“Open and transparent dialogue between humanitarian organisations and donors is needed to ensure that life-saving aid is delivered to those who need it most,” he added.