Jul 2014
This week David Anderson QC, the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, recommended a dialogue between charities and government departments to ensure that counter-terrorism policies don’t inadvertently impede humanitarian, mediation and reconciliation work. A recommendation welcomed by Conciliation Resources.
UK charities working overseas recognise that there are no pathways out of poverty without dealing with violent conflict. Yet peacebuilders and humanitarians are currently feeling the direct and indirect consequences of counter-terrorism policies. Current UK (and US) counter-terrorism legislation puts organisations, which engage with designated groups for humanitarian and peacebuilding ends, at risk of prosecution.  Ambiguities in this area are restricting their vital work.
As a result, mediation and dialogue initiatives in places like Colombia, the Philippines and Gaza are constrained or avoided. Ultimately, it is the civilians living in areas of conflict that continue to suffer most from these missed opportunities. 

Restricting space for mediation and peacebuilding

These legal restrictions mean peacebuilders could be prosecuted for offering training in negotiations, teaching a course on humanitarian law to representatives of a group listed as ‘terrorists’ or convening a dialogue to examine underlying grievances and peaceful ways to address them.
Conciliation Resources shares the global abhorrence of indiscriminate and terrorist violence used by some armed groups. We agree that legal safeguards are needed. We do, however, question policy responses to organised non-state armed groups that inhibit formal and informal diplomacy and mediation, and the current legal and political obstacles to legitimate efforts to help end conflict peacefully. 
Proscription closes space for dialogue. What we have seen in our own work with armed groups and in documenting peace processes is that opportunities for dialogue, and exposure to lessons from other contexts, tend to strengthen moderate, pro-dialogue elements within a group, while their absence tends to strengthen hardliners by removing viable alternatives to violence. 
For peacebuilders and mediators to understand and address the underlying causes of conflict, engaging armed groups through dialogue, while difficult and politically sensitive, is an important part of any peace process. Talking with all parties to a conflict, including people who use violence is essential to ending violent conflict.  Engagement does not confer legitimacy on a group or its actions: it can mean encouraging return, providing space for self-reflection and challenge, and helping groups to prepare for constructive peace negotiations. 
UK-based peacebuilding charities are uniquely positioned to provide professional support and resources that help mitigate and end violent conflicts around the world. This is because they can work with local and national counterparts and act as trusted conveners to bring all parties of a conflict to the table. This can help prepare the ground for negotiations in conflicts where political considerations can make it difficult for official government actors to engage with certain parties. 
Ambiguities in the UK counter-terrorism legislation can no longer be said to be ‘constructive’. Conciliation Resources supports the recommendations of the government’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation to address these issues through a constructive and consultative process of dialogue.

Further reading