On 22 July EU Foreign Ministers unanimously decided to add the military wing of Hezbollah to its list of proscribed terrorist organisations. While the EU’s apparent aim is to maintain contact with the political wing of Hezbollah and keep humanitarian aid flowing to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the implications in terms of sanctions are still to be seen.
The decision could potentially lead to a travel ban and an asset freeze. It also creates uncertainty around the legality of any financial flows from within the EU to Hezbollah.
The first question that comes to mind is how – how will the EU distinguish between Hezbollah’s socio-political wing and its now proscribed military wing? It has never been clear where one ends and the other begins. How will the EU determine what represents financial support to the political wing of Hezbollah, and not to the military wing, for example? The EU ruling has not shed light on this question.
Proscription: A blunt tool
Proscription is a blunt instrument. While its supporters argue that it can curtail or limit the activities of extremist groups by isolating them and stemming their financial and political backing, peacebuilders, like UK-based NGO Conciliation Resources, know from our own practical work on engaging armed groups that proscription can have the opposite effect: encouraging extremism and belligerence.
It is also far easier to get onto a blacklist than to get off it – the process and criteria for delisting are far from clear. And proscription can stymie support for legitimate activities and lead to confusion amongst diplomats as to what contact is permissible.
While it may often be difficult and uncomfortable to continue to talk with groups that use violence, doing so is often necessary to end and move away from violence.
The UK Government learnt this directly during the many years it spent talking to the IRA in order to transform the situation in Northern Ireland. By contrast, one consequence of this blacklisting will be that the space for dialogue in Lebanon and the Middle East has been narrowed.
Detrimental to prospects for political engagement
The decision may affect the EU’s credibility and role in Lebanon, where it is a significant donor and supporter of peacebuilding activities; ahead of the final vote, the Lebanese Government, who recognise Hezbollah as “an essential part of Lebanese society”, counselled the EU against blacklisting the group.
The decision will also create greater risks for third parties, including peacebuilding NGOs, who need to reach out to all parties to a conflict to nurture dialogue.
The listing is also likely to have a significant impact on Lebanon’s internal politics and its already fragile attempts to build peace and reconciliation.
While the main plank of the public case for proscribing Hezbollah was the bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria, the EU decision was at least in part motivated by the ongoing crisis in Syria and Hezbollah’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is far from assured that today’s decision will deter Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, but it will almost certainly make peacebuilding more complicated in neighbouring Lebanon.
To date, EU policy to keep channels of communications open in Lebanon has allowed it to play a pro-active role in promoting political reform, social development and reconciliation in the country. Today’s development is disappointing for peace prospects in the region.
Opportunities for dialogue should be encouraged rather than restrained, particularly at a time when Lebanon seems to be drawn ever more into the situation in Syria.
- For more on this issue see: What's in a label? EU listing of Hezbollah and challenges to Lebanon's peace
David Newton, Director of Policy, Practice and Communications, Conciliation Resources
Notes to editors
In 2012 Conciliation Resources published Reconciliation, reform and resilience: Positive peace for Lebanon – Accord issue 24 – which includes an article on EU policy in Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s relationship with Syria.
Through our ongoing conflict analysis work we also aim to share insight with policymakers and others involved in building peace on what we have learnt about the importance of engaging with armed groups.
Conciliation Resources is an independent UK-based peacebuilding organisation working with people in conflict to prevent violence and build peace. Since 1996 we’ve been assisting conflict-affected communities by providing advice, support and practical resources. In addition, we take what we learn to government decision-makers and others working to end conflict, to improve policy and practice worldwide.
We focus our efforts on seven main conflict contexts: Colombia, East and Central Africa, Fiji, Kashmir, the Philippines, South Caucasus, and West Africa. Conciliation Resources also shares learning through the peacebuilding analysis series Accord: an international review of peace initiatives