Ex-President Carter wants sanctions weakened on terrorist groups

Former President Jimmy Carter is spearheading an effort to convince the U.S. to weaken sanctions on terrorist groups so peace organizations can legally work with them.

In a petition to Secretary of State John Kerry delivered Thursday, Carter and other foreign policy experts ask Kerry to exempt peace groups from policies that make it a crime to offer negotiation training and humanitarian law classes to terror groups. 

“The Secretary of State can, and should, exempt peacebuilding activities from this counterproductive application of the law,” says the petition. “Doing so would open the door for professional peacebuilders to fully engage in helping to end armed conflicts and suffering around the world, while making the U.S. safer.”

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The Charity and Security Network, which is spearheading the petition, declined for legal reasons to provide examples of current programs impacted by anti-terrorism sanctions. The organization told The Hill that in the past, efforts to build bridges with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and leftist guerillas in Colombia have all been stymied.

A 2011 report by the UK-based Overseas Development Institute said anti-terrorism laws passed in the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have created bureaucratic red tape and fostered an atmosphere of “fear” and “confusion” that has endangered the lives of aid workers and made it impossible for them to work in many of the world's hot spots.

“Rigid and over-zealous application of counter-terrorism laws to humanitarian action in conflict not only limits its reach in that context,” the report concluded, “but undermines the independence and neutrality of humanitarian organisations in general, and could become an additional factor in the unravelling of the legitimacy and acceptance of humanitarian response in many of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”

The roadblocks have only gotten worse since the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that such aid fit the Patriot Act's definition of “material support” for terrorism. The high court in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project determined that such aid could free up terror groups' resources for terrorist activities and legitimize them.

The petition is signed by more than two dozen groups and former officials, including Mercy Corps; Andrew Natsios, former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development under President George W. Bush; retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering; and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department from 2009-2011.

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