Counter-terrorism and humanitarian action: UK INGO responses since 2015

Sam Nadel, Oliver Walton

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There has been growing awareness in recent years of the wide-ranging negative impacts that counter-terrorism measures and sanctions impose on humanitarian action. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with the staff of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), this paper examines these impacts on INGOs based in the United Kingdom. This is a context where a particularly complex array of laws, policies, and regulatory regimes have emerged alongside an increasingly hostile political and media setting for INGOs, creating an environment characterised by uncertainty. The paper shows that counter-terrorism measures and sanctions are leading INGOs to adopt more conservative approaches to partnership in areas controlled by proscribed groups, undermining broader commitments to the localisation agenda. The analysis reveals that perceptions of risk within INGOs vary considerably, but that despite this, INGOs have developed strategies to reduce the impacts of counter-terrorism measures, which over time, have led to improved coordination, and in some instances, a willingness to push back against regulations.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date6 Oct 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Oct 2023


  • counter-terrorism
  • humanitarianism
  • non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • risk management
  • sanctions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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