A law banning all dealings with the Taliban, which charities complain about hampering their ability to help Afghans in need, could be amended by the federal government to give aid agencies more flexibility.
International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said the government is considering changing the law to add “flexibility” to facilitate humanitarian aid.
But in an interview with The Canadian Press, he insisted Canada would not de-designate the Taliban as a mandated terrorist organization.
“We’re looking at options of what we can do to create that flexibility that other countries have,” he said. “The US can currently do more work than we can, at least have the opportunity 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 they are a terrorist entity.”
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A law listing the Taliban as a terrorist organization was passed in 2013 before the allies withdrew and the Taliban took control of Kabul and formed a de facto government last year.
Under counter-terrorism legislation, Canadians could face up to 10 years in prison if they directly or indirectly provide property or finance to the Taliban.
Canadian aid organizations working in Afghanistan complain that the law hinders their work because they can’t help anyone who may have links with the Afghan government, including those paying rent or taxes.
They have also criticized Canada for failing to amend its regulations after a December 2021 UN Security Council resolution that said “humanitarian assistance and other activities in support of basic human needs in Afghanistan” would not violate the sanctions regime of the United Nations Council violated.
Michael Messenger, President of World Vision Canada, told a parliamentary select committee on Afghanistan earlier this year that Canada was “not in step” with other countries, including the US, which made changes to ease humanitarian aid following the UN’s dissolution .
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Ten humanitarian organizations submitted a motion to the parliamentary committee, urging ministers to relax its laws so they could work on the ground in Afghanistan without fear of violating Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.
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In its official report last month, the committee recommended the government “ensure that registered Canadian organizations have the clarity and assurances they need — such as Canada’s anti-terrorism laws.”
Sajjan said that despite being banned from doing business with the Taliban, Canada has continued to provide huge amounts of aid to Afghanistan through organizations such as the UN and the Red Cross.
But he conceded that the law, introduced before the Taliban formed a government, prevented some aid efforts, including “development projects that require you to work your way through the government structure.”
He said Canada has pumped around $150 million into Afghanistan, including aid to help people following the recent earthquake that killed more than 1,000 and injured more than 1,500.
The earthquake struck a remote region near the Pakistani border, damaging more than 10,000 houses, most of which are built of clay and mud. Immediately after the earthquake, the Taliban called on the international community for help.
“The law has not prevented us from helping the Afghan people,” said the Minister for International Development. “We can still help the Afghan people, but we’re still exploring ways we can get the exemptions.”
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Lauryn Oates, executive director of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, said humanitarian groups receive conflicting legal advice about what the rules say they can and cannot do in Afghanistan.
She said the anti-terrorism law prevents Canadian aid workers from paying local taxes, including on rent or salaries. But aid workers could face imprisonment in Afghanistan if they don’t pay taxes under local laws.
The law also makes it harder to fund scholarships for Afghan women and girls in private universities and generates huge amounts of paperwork, she said. A scholarship can only be granted if the university signs a promise that the money, even small sums, will not be used to pay taxes.
Oates said she fears changing the law could take years if help is desperately needed in the impoverished country.
“We now need an innovative interim solution,” she said. “Other countries have been able to develop them and Canada is lagging behind.”
© 2022 The Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/8962673/anti-taliban-law-more-flexibility-help-afghans-minister/ More flexibility could be added to anti-Taliban law to help Afghans: Minister – National