Counterterrorism Efforts Bring Unintended Suffering: Interview with Jan Egeland - 19 Sept 2013, IPI article

Counterterrorism Efforts Bring Unintended Suffering: Interview with Jan Egeland

by jérémie labbé , Thursday, September 19, 2013

IPI Global Observatory

The unintended consequence of limiting humanitarian work because of counterterrrorism efforts in hot spots such as Somalia and Gaza is that it brings more suffering to civilians, said Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the humanitarian NGO Norwegian Refugee Council.

"There was one case of a group who thought they could not give school feedings to kindergartens anymore because the headmaster was seen as being part of Hamas. Of course, a baby is a baby. A baby is neither left or right, or Islamist or Christian. A baby has needs, and those need to be covered."

Mr. Egeland said that, while donors want to do away with any and all contact with or assistance to terrorist groups, there are no laws prohibiting negotiating access to armed actors, "as we have to do, even [with] those who are terrorists." 

"But, they [donors] have very often said, we cannot do humanitarian work that is in any way assisting these groups," he said.

Somalia was another example. "In Somalia, we saw that starving people in areas controlled by al-Shabaab were suddenly having fewer organizations and agencies working for them, and some of these groups then felt that they had to go through cumbersome procedures to be sure that aid was given according to criteria, which made it more difficult to do relief. And starving people, again, should be given food aid and other aid flexibly and easily according to needs, whether or not they're under a bad de facto ruler."

Mr. Egeland said he was torn when the humanitarian system became more integrated with political, military, and developmental missions. He said, as humanitarian actors, "we need to make very sure of our independence, our neutrality, our impartiality from political and military actors." 

"That is also why we launched now this study on the negative effects of counterterrorism legislation in donor monies," he said. "We need to maintain our independence and neutrality. And I think we can and should do that at the same time as we among ourselves coordinate better, become more robust in helping defend the rights of vulnerable people."

Jérémie Labbé is a Senior Policy Analyst at the International Peace Institute. He tweets at@jeremie_labbe.

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