Updated Standards Call for More Targeted Counterterrorism Measures, Protect Nonprofits

When governments undertake counterterrorism measures, they may unjustifiably restrict the work of human rights organizations and other nonprofits. But now NGOs should be better protected.

In late June, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) revised its recommendation on nonprofit organizations—Recommendation 8—after persistent advocacy by a global coalition of NGOs, including Human Rights First. The FATF is a global standard-setting body that provides guidelines for governments on how to address terrorist financing. The revised standard “aims to ensure that the implementation of Recommendation 8 is in line with the risk-based approach and does not disrupt or discourage legitimate non-profit activities.”

This revision took out the problematic assertion that nonprofits were “particularly vulnerable” to terrorist financing abuse. The revised recommendation calls for “focused” and “proportionate” measures to be applied based on risk, rather than one-size-fits-all measures. Nonprofit organizations have welcomed this change, which should discourage overregulation and inappropriate restrictions on NGOs.

The FATF also updated the “Interpretive Note,” which accompanies Recommendation 8 and provides further guidance to governments on how to implement these measures. The revisions to the Interpretive Note are complex. On the positive side, it makes clear that the recommendation is meant to apply to only a targeted subset of NGOs, not the “entire universe” of NGOs doing legitimate activities. It also recognizes the importance of the role that NGOs play in “providing essential services, comfort and hope to those in need around the world.”

But it still contains measures that could be interpreted in an overbroad and unjustifiably restrictive manner. For example, one of the examples provided in the Interpretive Note is that NGOs could be required to take reasonable measures to confirm who their beneficiaries are and show that they are not involved with or using the charitable funds to support terrorists or terrorist organizations. This kind of language is not aligned with the fundamental humanitarian principle that aid should be provided on the basis of need alone. If countries adopt it, it could tie the hands of NGOs providing aid in conflict zones.

Human Rights First’s work on Recommendation 8 dates back to 2014. Along with other groups, we raised concerns with the U.S. Treasury Department, the administration’s lead agency on FATF, explaining how the standards provide cover for repressive governments to crack down on NGOs. More recently, as part of FATF’s public consultation with NGOs, we submitted a public comment to FATF, urging specific changes to the draft text. At every step in the review process, we urged the U.S. delegation to push for constructive reforms at global FATF gatherings.

Now, we’ll focus on how these updated standards are interpreted and implemented at the country level. The FATF and national governments, including the United States, should facilitate deeper involvement of NGOs in the training of the teams that do country visits to assess the implementation of FATF recommendations. Building on the practices developed through this revision process, the FATF should continue to improve transparency and facilitate regular participation for NGOs.

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Published on July 8, 2016

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