WASHINGTON, DC — International relief and development organization Oxfam America applauded Representatives Christopher Smith (R-NJ), James McGovern (D-MA), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) for introducing the Humanitarian Assistance Facilitation Act (HAFA). This important bill would ensure that responsible aid organizations and agencies are able to respond to humanitarian emergencies in areas controlled by what the US government considers terrorist groups.
Currently, US counterterrorism laws prohibit any transactions with or support to listed terrorist groups, including payment of routine licensing fees or tolls to groups in control of territory. This means aid organization, such as Oxfam, can face civil and criminal penalties for offering life-saving assistance in areas controlled by these groups. The bill, which is supported by a broad number of organizations, creates a limited authorization to deliver humanitarian assistance in these areas, while preventing listed terrorist groups from exploiting international aid.
“Representatives Smith, McGovern, and Fortenberry are proposing a balanced, measured and commonsense solution that will help save lives,” said Paul O’Brien, Vice President of Policy and Campaigns at Oxfam America. “It rightly recognizes that humanitarian organizations have a solemn duty to prevent against abuse by armed groups, and it affirms, in the strongest possible terms, that the responsible delivery of aid cannot be a crime.
"As humanitarians, we are increasingly asked to intervene in areas controlled by hostile armed groups and the challenges we face in the field are more sophisticated than the laws that govern our operations,” said O’Brien. “This bill will help us save lives, while pushing us to be ever more diligent and creative in our delivery of aid in high-risk areas.”
Nearly 260,000 people died during the 2011-12 famine in Somalia, half of them children under the age of five. Consecutive underperforming rainy seasons, violent conflict, prohibitions on free movement, and restrictions on aid agencies by armed groups in Somalia all contributed to create the most deadly famine in Somalia in decades. US counter-terror laws—and the delay in the authorization ultimately granted by the Treasury Department to offer assistance—exacerbated what was already a horrific crisis. Millions of dollars of humanitarian aid was delayed or blocked. And since the authorization only covered US government grantees, Oxfam America, which does not accept US government funds, was unable to contribute funds to assist the hardest-hit areas of Somalia.
“We must learn the lessons from the last famine in Somalia and urgently pass this bill into law,” O’Brien said. “President Reagan once said that a hungry child knows no politics. Nearly thirty years later, it is outrageous that people could still be left to perish because of where they live or who rules over them."