What's In Blue

Posted Tue 10 Aug 2021

Arria-formula Meeting on Overcoming Challenges to Humanitarian Action in Situations of Armed Conflict and Counter-Terrorism Operations

Tomorrow (11 August), Security Council members will hold a virtual Arria-formula meeting on “humanitarian action: overcoming challenges in situations of armed conflict and counter-terrorism operations”. The meeting is being organised by Kenya. The expected briefers are Raffi Gregorian, Deputy to the Under-Secretary-General of the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and Director of the UNOCT; Reena Ghelani, OCHA’s Director of Operations and Advocacy Division; Helen Durham, Director of International Law and Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and Bankole Adeoye, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security. The statements of Council members will be broadcast live, while other member states are invited to submit written statements. The meeting will be broadcast on UNTV at 10 am EST.

Kenya has prepared a concept note for the meeting, which describes the relationship between armed conflict, counter-terrorism measures, and humanitarian action. It argues that contemporary armed conflicts result in humanitarian crises that give terrorist groups the opportunity to recruit displaced civilians, raise funds for their operations and use civilians and civilian objects as shields against military and counter-terrorism operations. The concept note says that many states are responding to the protection and humanitarian needs of conflict-affected populations by simultaneously introducing stronger counter-terrorism measures and increasing the provision of humanitarian aid. It suggests, however, that these initiatives are in tension with one another, and indicates that many in the humanitarian community are wary of counter-terrorism measures that undermine their ability to deliver humanitarian assistance. The concept note therefore emphasises the importance of developing principles that address the threat posed by terrorism without undermining humanitarian action in situations of armed conflict.

The concept note refers to efforts by the Security Council to minimise the effect of counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian action by incorporating “humanitarian carve-outs” (that is, exemptions allowing humanitarian actors to deliver their services without risk of contravening counter-terrorism measures) and improved safeguards in relevant Council resolutions. For example, resolution 2462 of 28 March 2019 on the financing of terrorism demanded that member states ensure that counter-terrorism measures comply with international humanitarian law. It also urged states to take account of potential effects on humanitarian activities when designing and applying measures to counter the financing of terrorism. Similar language was incorporated into resolution 2482 of 19 July 2019, which relates to the nexus between terrorism and international organised crime.

In June 2020, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the 1267/1989/2253 Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee issued a report on actions taken by member states to disrupt terrorist financing. The report, which was requested by the Council in resolution 2462, noted that responses submitted by states suggest that they “face challenges in finding policies or practical measures to ensure, pursuant to paragraph 24 of resolution 2462, that measures to counter the financing of terrorism take into account the potential effect of those measures on exclusively humanitarian activities, including medical activities, that are carried out by impartial humanitarian actors”.

According to the concept note, tomorrow’s meeting aims to assess the extent to which insurgent and terrorist groups are consciously incorporating humanitarian situations into their strategies and operations. Another objective of the meeting is to evaluate whether humanitarian carve-outs in Council resolutions and associated international instruments are sufficient to protect, allow, and facilitate impartial humanitarian action. The meeting will also serve as a platform to explore new approaches and opportunities to limit terrorist groups’ exploitation of civilian suffering to raise finances and recruit new members and will provide a forum to promote dialogue and cooperation between the counter-terrorism and humanitarian communities and institutions related to Council mandates. The concept note invites participants to explore several guiding questions, including:

  • How do insurgent and terrorist groups incorporate humanitarian situations into their strategies and operations?
  • How do UN counter-terrorism measures and operations impact humanitarian action?
  • Are UN counter-terrorism measures designed to protect humanitarian space in situations of armed conflict and other disasters?
  • How are domestic, sub-regional, regional and multilateral sanction measures designed and applied for counter-terrorism impeding humanitarian access to funds, materials or the people they aim to serve?
  • How can the Security Council respond and lessen the impact of counter-terrorism measures on humanitarian activities?

The relationship between counter-terrorism measures and humanitarian action was raised during France’s signature event on the protection of humanitarian space, which was held on 16 July. At that meeting, the Council was briefed by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini and the Delegate Director of Advocacy at Action Against Hunger, Lucile Grosjean. Mardini asked Council members to consider crafting standing humanitarian exemptions (that is, standard exemptions which the Council can apply to all relevant situations) and to include in future resolutions provisions requiring states to adopt concrete measures that facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid. Mohammed noted that counter-terrorism measures should be designed in a way that minimises their effect on humanitarian operations and allows humanitarian personnel to carry out their work.

Several Council members also discussed counter-terrorism and humanitarian action during the July meeting. The UK, for example, highlighted the importance of ensuring that counter-terrorism measures do not prevent humanitarian organisations from fulfilling their mission. Ireland also mentioned the difficulties that counter-terrorism measures can create for humanitarian action and suggested that the UN’s counter-terrorism bodies should engage in a systematic dialogue with humanitarian groups. Russia said that creating an environment that allows humanitarian work to be carried out should not excuse states from upholding their counter-terrorism obligations and argued that it is unacceptable for humanitarian organisations “to support terrorists, directly or indirectly”. Kenya expressed the view that the humanitarian community can do more to prevent their supply chains and processes from being exploited and penetrated by terrorists. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may elaborate on these positions in greater detail.