On June 20, 2013, a petition with broad-based coalition support was delivered to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, asking that he exempt peacebuilding activities from criminalization under the “material support” laws. Those who signed the petition include President Jimmy Carter, as well as Ambassadors Nancy Soderberg and Tom Pickering, both members of The Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee. Other signatories were peacebuilders, former ambassadors, academics, foreign policy experts, religious leaders, and civil liberties groups, including TCP.
The petition was delivered in anticipation of the June 21 anniversary of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. In that case, the Court ruled that peacebuilding organizations seeking to teach designated terrorist groups how to pursue their aims through non-violent political channels could be criminally prosecuted on the grounds they are providing the groups with “material support.”
Under United States law, it is illegal to provide “material support” to any group that the State Department has placed on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. “Material support” is broadly defined to include “personnel”, “training”, or “expert advice or assistance.”
The petition asks that the State Department recognize the important role peacebuilding groups play in the diplomatic process. “Peacebuilding organizations are uniquely positioned to help mitigate and end violent conflicts around the world,” the petition states. “Because they are independent from government, these organizations are able to act as neutral conveners to bring all parties of a conflict to the table.” Current policy restricts these groups’ ability to engage in their work, the petition continues.
A statutory provision gives the Secretary of State the authority to suspend the prohibition to allow certain engagement with designated terrorist groups, so long as it does not further any terrorist activity. The petition asks Secretary Kerry to act on that authority.
In 2011, TCP supported a similar request to then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
UPDATE: On June 27, CNN’s Global Public Square with Fareed Zakaria carried an op-ed from Ambassadors Soderberg and Pickering on the issue.