Anti-Taliban law could be changed to bring more humanitarian aid to Afghans: minister


A law barring any dealings with the Taliban, which the charities say impedes their ability to help Afghans in need, could be changed by the federal government to give aid agencies more flexibility.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government is seeking to make changes to the law to create “flexibility” to facilitate humanitarian aid.

But, in an interview with The Canadian Press, he insisted that Canada would not lift the Taliban’s designation as a prescribed terrorist organization.

“We are looking at options on what we can do to create that flexibility that other countries have,” he said. “The United States currently can do more work than us, at least it has the options to do more things there. We are looking at similar exemptions that we can create as long as we can keep the pressure on the Taliban, as it is a terrorist entity.”

A law classifying the Taliban as a terrorist organization was passed in 2013, before allies withdrew and the Taliban seized control of Kabul and formed a de facto government last year.

Under anti-terrorism legislation, Canadians could face up to 10 years in prison if they directly or indirectly make property or finances available to the Taliban.

Canadian aid agencies working in Afghanistan complain that the law impedes their work because they cannot help anyone who may have official dealings with the Afghan government, including people who pay rent or taxes.

They have also criticized Canada for not tightening its regulations following a December 2021 UN Security Council resolution that said “humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan” would not violate the sanctions regime. of Council.

Giving evidence to a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan earlier this year, Michael Messenger, president of World Vision Canada, said Canada was “out of step” with other countries, including the US resolution.

Ten humanitarian organizations made a presentation to the parliamentary committee calling on ministers to relax their laws so they could work on the ground in Afghanistan without fear of breaking Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.

In its official report last month, the committee recommended that the government “ensure that registered Canadian organizations have the necessary clarity and safeguards, such as exclusions or exemptions, to provide humanitarian assistance and meet basic needs in Afghanistan without fear of prosecution.” for violating Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.”

Sajjan said that despite bans on dealing with the Taliban, Canada has continued to deliver large sums of aid to Afghanistan through agencies such as the UN and the Red Cross.

But he acknowledged that the law, enacted before the Taliban formed the government, was preventing some aid work, including “development projects where you have to work through the government structure.”

He said that Canada had pumped about $150 million into Afghanistan, including aid to help people after the recent earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people and injured more than 1,500.

The quake hit a remote region near the Pakistani border, damaging more than 10,000 homes, most of which are made of clay and mud. Immediately after the earthquake, the Taliban appealed to the international community for help.

“The law has not prevented us from helping the Afghan people,” the international development minister said. “We can still help the Afghan people, but we are still looking at options to get the waivers.”

Lauryn Oates, executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, said humanitarian groups were receiving conflicting legal advice about what the rules say they can and cannot do in Afghanistan.

She said the anti-terrorism law was preventing Canadian aid workers from paying local taxes, including rent or wages. But aid workers could be jailed in Afghanistan if they don’t pay taxes, depending on local laws.

The law also makes it difficult to fund scholarships for Afghan women and girls at private universities and creates a lot of paperwork, he said. A scholarship can now only be awarded if the university signs commitments that the money, even small amounts, would not be used to pay taxes.

Oates said he feared a law change could take years when help is urgently needed in the impoverished country.

“We need an innovative stopgap solution now,” he said. “Other countries have been able to invent them and Canada is falling behind.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 2, 2022.

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