Today, the House of Commons voted through amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, excluding aid and humanitarian actors from the “designated areas offence”.
The proposed “designated areas offence” gives the government powers to designate all or part of a country, making it illegal for UK nationals and residents to enter or remain in that area. Under the original proposals, if an individual is unable to show they had “a reasonable excuse for entering or remaining in the designated area”, they could have received a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Although the government had said humanitarian aid delivery would count as a “reasonable excuse”, an individual would have only been able to invoke this defence after being charged with a criminal offence. Bond and its members flagged concerns about the potentially chilling effect this could have had on an organisation's ability and willingness to respond to a humanitarian crisis. An amendment was put down in the House of Lords by Lord Rosser, at the report stage of the bill, that excluded aid workers from the designated areas offence, which was successful by 220 votes to 191.
The amendment garnered cross-party support, providing much-needed cover for the organisations responding to humanitarian crises across the world and today was supported by the House of Commons. However, despite significant efforts from Bond and its members, peacebuilding was not included in the amendment as an exemption and is not currently on the face of the bill.
Rowan Popplewell, Policy Manager at Bond, the UK network for organisations working in international development, said:
“The outcome of today’s vote in the House of Commons on the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill is an important win for the NGO and humanitarian sector. Aid and humanitarian actors are now finally exempt and no longer have to fear being charged with a criminal offence for simply trying to do their jobs.
The vital work aid workers do in some of the most dangerous countries in the world in an attempt to help the world’s most vulnerable people can carry on, largely unhindered. However, it remains a concern that peacebuilding was not included in the amendment as an exemption despite this being critically important to long term efforts to address the root causes of violent conflict. Bond will continue to push for peacebuilding to be included as an exemption.”
Notes to Editors
1. On the 29th of November, 24 CEO’s from the UK’s leading NGO’s and thinktanks signed on to a statement calling on the government to ensure aid workers, academics, journalists and anyone else with legitimate reasons to travel to insecure countries, would not be adversely affected by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill: https://www.bond.org.uk/press-releases/2018/11/uks-leading-ngos-concerned-aid-workers-journalists-and-development
2. Bond is the UK network for organisations working in international development. Bond unites and supports a diverse network of over 400 civil society organisations and allies to help eradicate global poverty, inequality and injustice.