Current U.K. and US counterterrorism laws are deterring NGOs and humanitarian organizations from providing vital medical aid and supplies in Somalia. The robust laws and lack of clarity from donor governments have left many in fear of being prosecuted or having their organizations closed.
Somalia has been suffering from severe drought conditions that have caused famine, disease, and malnourishment across the entire country. More than 6.2 million Somalis are thought to be affected and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Natural disaster and a politically unstable landscape have fuelled human rights abuses and caused the displacement of thousands of people. Areas of Somalia are controlled by Al-Shabaab, the Al-Qaeda affiliate that is operating in the area. It is estimated that 2 million people are living in areas that are directly in control of the terror organization.
The concern is that aid may be obstructed by terrorist groups and there is no guarantee that aid will bypass militants if they have prominent control in the area and surrounding areas. Providing aid to particular areas of inhabitants requires discussion and logistical cooperation with dominant figures in these communities, the issue is that it is near impossible to determine whether these influences have links to Al-Shabaab and how the aid will be utilised.
Furthermore, there are legal concerns from humanitarian organizations who have expressed fear of prosecution in providing assistance. David Concar, the British ambassador to Somalia, suggested in a recent interview that there were humanitarian exceptions to existing laws. He said, “the bottom line is that there is an emergency and the priority for everyone is getting aid to those who need it, wherever they are.” This is a sentiment that has been expressed by British officials and international bodies, such as the UN. Despite this reassurance, NGOs still remain anxious and are asking for clarity on counterterrorism and international human rights law that is applicable to the matter.
Research conducted by the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) supported the claim of the challenges with robust counterterrorism laws. They revealed that these laws have “increased operating costs, slowed down administrative functions and operational response, centralised funding and undermined humanitarian partnerships.” The lack of transparency and official advice provided from donor governments to humanitarian organizations is a significant issue that needs addressing. There needs to be greater clarity on these grey areas, addressed through international human rights law and counterterrorism law, that are specific to the conflict in question. Once this information is sufficiently provided, humanitarian organizations can redirect their focus on providing the necessary aid that is so desperately needed across Somalia.
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