The latest: The Canadian government has introduced a bill to the House of Representatives that would tweak Canada’s terrorism financing laws so that foreign aid agencies can operate in a geography controlled by the Taliban and other terrorism hotspots. The Trudeau government presented the bill on Thursday.
- The plan changes Canada’s terrorism financing laws to allow foreign aid agencies to operate in Afghanistan and elsewhere under the control of terrorist groups.
- However, Canadian Public Safety Minister Marco Mendisino said at a press briefing that the decision to reduce the rules should not be read as an endorsement by the Taliban because, he said, the group would remain on its list of terrorist groups.
- “The Taliban have shown a hasty disregard for human rights and committed shameful and violent rapes, especially against Afghan women and girls,” he added.
- “This bill meets the urgency of the moment, giving NGOs the flexibility they need to help those in need in Afghanistan.”
- The proposed changes in the government’s legislation, Bill C-41, would allow aid groups to apply for an exemption to the law so they can deliver humanitarian assistance and do other work, such as facilitating the passage of Afghan refugees to Canada.
- Canada has committed to resettling 40,000 Afghan refugees. A number of would-be refugees have had trouble leaving the country without access to support from aid workers who can help with translation, paperwork and access to safe travel arrangements.
- Under the proposed changes, which must clear Parliament before being enacted, an aid organization could apply to the government to do work in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
- Under the proposed legislation, an organization must detail what sort of activities it plans to carry out. The government would then complete a “security assessment” and the minister of public safety would make the final call on whether the work can proceed as planned in Afghanistan, or in any other area controlled by a terrorist group.
- This bill would allow groups to provide assistance — food, shelter, hygiene and health services, education, programs to support earning a livelihood (like agricultural training), human rights programming and immigration services.
- Federal officials said during a technical briefing that an organization could apply for one permit to cover all its activities, instead of requiring separate ones for individual aid workers. They said there is no timeline for how soon exemption applications could be processed.
- Under the proposed law, cabinet would grant the exemptions even if there is a risk that a terror group will try to seize goods or otherwise interfere, as long as the benefits of the activity outweigh that risk.
- These proposed exemptions would be eligible to both Canadians abroad and people who reside in Canada. The minister could withdraw the exemptions at will, and the drafted legislation bars anyone who is or is likely to be involved in a terror group from being granted an exemption.
Why it matters? Earlier, a number of countries, including Canada, had suspended the activities of some aid agencies and other NGOs after the Taliban imposed restrictions on women.
- Canadian charities and other non-governmental organizations largely suspended their activities in Afghanistan because of Criminal Code provisions that essentially prohibit them from operating there.
- These organizations often have to pay taxes or fees to operate in the country — funding that is now collected by the Taliban, which controls Afghanistan. Under the current law, these NGOs could be held criminally liable for materially supporting a terrorist entity. Charities say that law has had a chilling effect on life-saving aid work.
Meanwhile, in another development, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations has said that limiting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan is morally incorrect and will backfire politically.
- Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Munir Akram, told a security council meeting on Thursday, that stopping or reducing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan is harming the human rights of the 28 million Afghans currently in poor health.
- Akram added that a comprehensive international effort is needed to revive Afghanistan’s economy and its banking and financial sectors, as well as to implement several communication projects. Earlier, Akram said that if the economic situation in Afghanistan does not improve, the Taliban may fail.
Zoom out: This comes even as the United Nations has begun the process of requesting a $4.6 billion aid package for more than 23 million of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable citizens.
- This call was launched on Thursday after weeks of discussion about suspending or reducing the level of humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. The United Nations said that it will decide on the operational process of its humanitarian programs in the next six months.
- The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) has offered $4.6 billion to help those in need, which is expected to reach those in need in collaboration with 218 partner organizations.
- The UN call states, “The ban on women’s participation in humanitarian responses will have devastating and long-term consequences for all those in need, especially women and girls, who are already the most vulnerable members of society.”
- Last year, the United Nations requested 4.6 billion dollars to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, 59% of which was provided by donors. However, this call was stopped by United Nations after the Taliban banned women’s education and work, and it was conditional on the removal of these restrictions.
- UNAMA has stressed that its officials are continuing talks with Taliban officials at various levels to lift the ban on women’s employment.
- According to the United Nations, 28 million and 300,000 people are currently in need of assistance in Afghanistan, and the organization is planning to provide assistance to 23 million and 700,000 people.