Charities criticize anti-terror guidelines

Federal anti-terrorist guidelines are not likely to reduce funds to terrorist groups and could discourage U.S. organizations from continuing international charity work, more than 40 U.S. charities say.

The charities have called for the U.S. Treasury Department to withdraw its revised anti-terrorist financing guidelines and adopt an alternate set.

A working group of charities drafted its own guidelines, “Principles of International Charity,” to guide organizations’ anti-terrorism precautions, and is opposing the Treasury Department’s “Anti-terrorist Financing Guidelines: Voluntary Best Practices for U.S.-based Charities.”

The guidelines are designed to minimize the risk that charitable assets are diverted to terrorist organizations.

The working group, coordinated by the Council on Foundations, concluded that given the realities of international charitable work, the Treasury Department’s guidelines are impractical.

The charities say the Treasury Department’s guidelines link charitable organizations more closely to the U.S. government, a move it says could undermine foreign partners’ trust of nonprofits or increase targeting of humanitarian workers by terrorists.

The charities also say the guidelines call for collecting more information on a greater number of organizations, a move they say would impose an unnecessary burden on nonprofits.

And although they are voluntary, the guidelines could become mandatory, the charities say.

The charities’ proposed guidelines outline eight principles they say are more effective than the Treasury Department’s in minimizing the risk that charitable assets are diverted to terrorist causes.

The charities say fiscal responsibility is fundamental to international charity work and requires adequate financial controls that continuously trace funds between the service provider and delivery of the service.

When engaging in international work, the group says, charities must abide both by U.S. and relevant foreign law while remaining independent nongovernmental entities.

The charities include a mix of nongovernmental agencies, including foundations, corporations, watchdog groups, legal advisors and nonprofit umbrella organizations.

The group was formed April 2004 in response to the Treasury’s invitation that charities propose alternatives to the initial anti-terrorist financing guidelines issued November 2002.

The Treasury’s guidelines provoked a sector-wide reexamination of due diligence and monitoring procedures, which some organizations had already begun after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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