Relax U.K. Laws to Allow Aid to Terrorist-Held Areas, Panel Says

The U.K.’s anti-terrorism laws should be relaxed to allow charities to help people in extremist-held areas, a panel of lawmakers said in a report Wednesday.

The fear of being accused of supporting terrorism is having a “chilling effect” on charities trying to deliver humanitarian aid in conflict zones and new regulations should be introduced, according to the cross-party committee, which is considering new powers proposed in the draft Protection of Charities Bill.

“We think the government should look seriously at following the example of New Zealand and Australia, where exceptions to terrorist legislation are made for charities providing humanitarian relief,” said Chairman David Hope, an independent lawmaker in the House of Lords, Parliament’s upper chamber.

The committee heard evidence that banned organizations act as “gatekeepers” for getting aid to those in most need in areas including Syria and Somalia, and charities want to be reassured they will not be prosecuted for negotiating with them.

The Charity Commission, which oversees philanthropic organizations in the U.K., is also working to reassure banks that they can offer services to non-governmental organizations working in extremist-held areas without risking breaches of terror and asset-freezing laws. Without banking services, charities have had to resort to carrying large quantities of cash, exposing themselves to greater risk, according to the report.

“We are also calling on the Director of Public Prosecutions to provide guidance for charities about the circumstances where they would and would not face criminal charges,” the parliamentary panel said.

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