An emerging trend of cautiousness has taken hold across the charity sector and adjoining sectors.
We have recently seen the Charity Commission push ahead with an agenda to make their inquiries transparent by announcing the name of charities under investigation - thus already prejudicing charities that happen to come under inquiry leading to a tarnished reputation despite not being proven guilty of any wrongdoing. While their aim for transparency is welcomed, the reputational effect is unquestionable.
It is wholly unclear why the Charity Commission has decided to make public its investigations; unless there are very serious worries that money donated will not be used for charitable purposes, there is no reason to make investigations public until an offence has been committed and should be reported. Since charities act in the interest of public benefit, naming them publically can have serious repercussions on the way the public sees the sector as whole.
What concerns me most is that the sector is increasingly being seen as being vulnerable to be abused by criminals when there is little evidence to show that. The disproportionate focus on the securitisation of the charity sector through counter-terrorism laws on terrorist financing is apparent even in the Charity Commission's own experience that "proven instances of terrorist involvement or association in the charitable sector are low in comparison to the size of the sector".
The sector is always proactive when addressing issues that may pose serious problems to their operations. In August 2012, I wrote to the Charity Commission requesting for more guidance on Syria for due diligence, reporting and accountability when carrying out emergency relief operations to protect the reputation of charities, the safety of their employees and partners, and the integrity of their donors. I was informed to refer to online guidance about working internationally and apply the same due diligence as in any state of conflict. Safer Giving advice on Syria was published only eight months later in April 2014 and another alert on Aid Convoys in February 2014 and acknowledging the fact that Syria was not a conflict like any other.
In many other contexts such as Syria, the emergence of proscribed groups combined with the risks of being prosecuted for entering in contact with those groups, has an adverse effect of forcing humanitarian aid agencies to avoid working areas under the control of proscribed groups to reduce risks. But often these are the areas that need aid the most!
This securitisation of humanitarian space has to be taken seriously by the wider aid community as it is compromising the integrity of the sector, but more than that, it is endangering the sector and the lives of humanitarians. Our strength in times of violent crises is that we are the neutral brokers, even if we are not engaged directly in peace-building, our role as relief-providers can sometimes be the catalyst of trust-building and future dialogue.
When that space is claimed and tainted by perceived security interests and the engagement with certain actors has more to do with the fear of legal retribution back home than any tangible threat from individuals or groups, the sector has surrendered to the political and interests of our governments, not of universal humanitarian principles.