Senior National Security and Humanitarian Figures Urge Continued Life-Saving Assistance to Somalia

Senior National Security and Humanitarian Figures Urge Continued Life-Saving Assistance to Somalia: Kenya’s Misdirected Proposal at UN Would Cripple Aid Instead

WASHINGTON—In an open letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and USAID Administrator Mark Green, 20 senior U.S. national security and humanitarian figures urged U.S. officials to reject a Kenyan proposal at the UN, saying it would cripple humanitarian aid.

The signatories include former Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering, former USAID Administrator J. Brian Atwood, and three former Assistant Secretaries of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration: Arthur “Gene” Dewey, Phillis Oakley, and Refugees International President Eric P. Schwartz. In addition, Maj. Gen. William Nash (ret.); Daniel Benjamin, former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator of Counter-Terrorism at the State Department; and Joel Charny, Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, signed as well.

The letter takes aim at Kenya’s proposal to add the Somalia-based Al Shabaab militant group to a UN sanctions regime targeted at Al Qaeda and ISIL. Al Shabaab is already sanctioned under a different regime, which includes a tailored exemption for humanitarian aid that the United States government has supported for many years. Adding Al Shabaab to a sanctions regime that does not include this critical exemption would cripple the humanitarian effort and put hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Somalis in peril. 

“The Somalis whose lives would be put in danger didn’t ask to be put in the middle of this conflict,” said Schwartz. “The proposal would put the lives of hundreds of thousands at risk without discernible impact on the challenge posed by Al Shabaab. We urge the United States to formally object to this proposal.”    

Under UN procedure, this proposal will be approved unless a member of the UN Security Council objects. While the United States has placed a temporary hold on the Kenyan proposal, that hold expires on August 29. If it advances, the practical impact of this measure would put humanitarian assistance efforts in jeopardy and hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.

“Due to a combination of drought and conflict, more than four million Somalis are in need of aid, and by the end of the year a million children could face acute malnutrition,” said Mark Yarnell, Refugees International’s senior advocate and UN liaison. “The United States has been a leader in providing aid to Somalia over the years, but counter-terror measures that do not include a humanitarian exemption could have a devastating effect on life-saving activities.”

In June this year, USAID announced $186.4 million in new assistance, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian funding to more than $670 million for FY18/19. In 2017, drought and violent conflict brought Somalia to the brink of catastrophe, but the United States offered more than $420 million in life-saving assistance as part of a broader international effort, averting the worst.

In addition to Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Mnuchin, and Administrator Green, the letter was also sent to leaders on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations; Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

Photo Credit: “United Nations Headquarters” by versello is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0