House of Commons’ Special Committee on Afghanistan: CARE Canada Opening Statement

CARE CANADA STATEMENT
BARBARA GRANTHAM, PRESIDENT & CEO, CARE CANADA 

Depuis nos bureaux situés sur le territoire non cédé et non abandonné de la Nation algonquine Anishinabe, je remercie le Comité de nous avoir invité à comparaître dans le cadre de cette étude. CARE travaille en Afghanistan depuis 1961, avec de généreux financements canadiens depuis 2001.

I have two key messages for the Committee:  

First, Canadian anti-terror legislation currently bars humanitarian organizations from implementing Canadian-funded programs in Afghanistan, and this must be addressed immediately.  

  • The humanitarian imperative to respond is clear, with concurrent crises leading up to the takeover, and escalating dramatically since then.  
  • Yet humanitarian organizations like CARE Canada are unable to respond. The Taliban is on Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act’s list of terrorist entities and are the country’s de facto government. The view is that paying ordinary taxes (on rent, salaries, imports etc.) would violate Canada’s Criminal Code (paragraph 83.03(b)), which make it a criminal offence to “make available [resources and] services… knowing that… they will be used by or will benefit a terrorist group”.   
  • The intent of the legislation was never to impede lifesaving support from reaching the most vulnerable communities in Afghanistan. However, this is the result. CARE has been unable to implement Canadian-funded programs in Afghanistan since August 2021. Our mobile health teams cannot travel to remote areas, purchase medicines, or provide protection or nutrition services, in a country where 1M children are at risk of dying of malnutrition.  
  • Le Canada est le seul des donateurs institutionnels de la confédération CARE dont le financement n'a pas repris. 
  • This interpretation of the law also does not align with the vision and objectives of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), which acknowledges that “we need to be willing to take responsible risks, with decisions based on evidence and learning.”  The policy itself acknowledges that delivering responsive and accountable assistance for meaningful social change cannot be achieved without this. 
  • As such, we urge the Government of Canada to pursue all innovative solutions that ensure that Canadian humanitarian organizations can resume operations without exposure to criminal liability, as per UN Security Council Resolution 2615, in the short- and long-term.

My second message is that gender equality, and the response efforts of women humanitarian and civil society leaders, must be prioritized in Canada’s support to Afghanistan. 

  • Principled humanitarian action must reach all people in need, and it is necessary to acknowledge that gender inequality persists, which leads women and girls and marginalized people to be disproportionately affected by crises.  
    • Of the 22.8 million people facing acute food insecurity, 47% are women and girls.  
    • Of more than 500,000 people displaced in 2021, at least 80% are women and children.  
  • For this reason, local women’s leadership is critical to delivering humanitarian aid, especially in marginalized communities, and must be prioritized in the response efforts. 
    • Yet, women-led NGOs’ own ability to deliver services is severely constrained by the ongoing economic and liquidity crises, unable to access funds to run operations.  
    • While possible in some provinces, the full participation of women humanitarian staff remains limited, which risks marginalizing women and girls further. 

To conclude: 

  1. First: We urge Canada to pursue all innovative solutions that allow Canadian humanitarian organizations to resume programs in Afghanistan, in the short and long terms
  2. Canada must prioritize the leadership of women humanitarian staff and civil society organizations in the response.
    • a. Flexible, predictable funding must reach these local responders. Additional costs that ensure the safety of NGO staff, including women staff (e.g. such as separate office spaces, separate accommodations for travel) requires donors' support.
    • b. The newly-established “Afghan Women Advisory Group”, which informs the Humanitarian Country Team’s engagement with the Taliban, must also be supported by Canada.

Merci au Comité, et j’ai hâte d’échanger avec vous lors de la discussion. Thank you to the Committee, and I look forward to your questions.