When the initial Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines were issued by the US Treasury in 2002, the Council on Foundations (COF) viewed the recommendations they contained as unrealistic, costly, inappropriate and confusing. Moreover, the Council felt they could discourage international philanthropy.
In response, COF convened a Treasury Guidelines Working Group, which last year produced a document called Principles of International Charity for the Treasury and the non-profit sector, setting out the responsibilities of charities as independent entities to ensure that their charitable assets and other resources are not diverted to terrorists. This was followed in December 2005 by revised Treasury Guidelines for comment. While some of the Working Group’s principles were incorporated in the document, those relating to the independence of charities were not. The revised Guidelines recommended more information collection by charities and reporting of discrepancies to US law enforcement agencies, adding to the impression that US charities are agents of the government – a highly dangerous perception when humanitarian workers are already being targeted and murdered in conflict areas. Moreover, other agencies of the US Government are beginning to formally reference the Guidelines, according them a status that exceeds their strictly voluntary nature.
For all these reasons, the Working Group called on the Treasury to withdraw the Guidelines earlier this year. The Treasury has recently said that the Guidelines have been useful and will not be withdrawn, although further revisions are planned. It is also developing a ‘risk matrix’ to assist charities in assessing the risk of diversion of their assets to terrorists. The Council on Foundations has requested, on behalf of the Treasury Guidelines Working Group, that the risk matrix be issued first for public comment. The Working Group will continue to follow these developments closely.