Montreux Document

Global war on terror case study

2.THE MONTREAUX INITIATIVE

2.1Introduction

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This case study details how responses to the changes and effects of the global war on terror were made by governments following the Montreaux Initiative. The Montreaux Initiative was a project facilitated by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to review and remove unnecessary obstacles for Islamic charities. One of the defining characteristics of the Montreaux Initiative since its inception is that it would operate purely as a confidence building forum. A number of obstacles (especially with regard to financing and transfer of funds) had been put in place since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The obstacles made it extremely difficult for Islamic charities to deliver humanitarian aid to victims of disasters such as natural catastrophes and wars. By removing the obstacles, the Montreaux Initiative hoped that it would contribute to the strengthening of relationships between Western countries and the Islamic world. Essentially, the Montreaux Initiative envisaged enhanced cooperation between governments of Western countries and the Islamic charities (Montreux Initiative 2007). 

In terms of legal standing, the MI was instituted and formalized as a private not-for-profit organization under the laws of Switzerland. The organization’s primary mandate would be to build confidence and help governments to engage constructively with Islamic charities. In effect, the organization would help governments identify bona fide Islamic charities operating anywhere in the world. The organization proposed a rigorous criterion for demonstrating that a particular Islamic charity is meeting applicable regulatory provisions and that it operated legitimately within the applicable laws, both nationally and internationally. The Montreaux Initiative encouraged Islamic charities registered anywhere in the world to be part of it. Any Islamic charity that chose not to enter the Montreaux Initiative would be deemed not to be bona fide and this would have serious implications for their operations.       

It can be noted that Western governments were the main targets of the Montreaux Initiative. According to the founders of the initiatives, government in Western countries had legitimate security concerns due to the increasing terrorist attacks targeted at them. For instance, Al Qaeda, the largest terrorist organization in the world had declared a holy war against the United States and her allies especially in Europe (Kohlmann 2004, p. 32). In response, these Western countries began the counterterrorism war, whose aim was to annihilate the capacity of the terrorist organizations to launch an attack on their territories or anywhere in the world. In the counterterrorism war, it was widely believed that certain Islamic charities were behind the financing of the terror groups.  As such, one of the aims of Montreaux Initiative  was to persuade governments not to victimise all Islamic charities as majority of them were engaged in legitimate and genuine activities such as provision of humanitarian assistance and development aid.

Islamic charities recommendations

The Montreaux Initiative could achieve its goals by making a set of recommendations for Islamic charities and governments regarding the operations of charities and their supervision and control. Several recommendations were drafted with the primary aim of establishing a criterion for recognizing bona fide Islamic charities and for blacklisting charities suspected of contravening the law. The recommendations were endorsed by several Islamic charities across the world. Governments in Western countries also endorsed some of the recommendations. Thus, the Montreaux Initiative became an important tool for minimizing misunderstanding between Islamic charities and governments. The initiative was specially designed to drive Islamic charities to ensure that their financial and operations systems were adequately protected to minimize risks of money being channeled into illegitimate purposes (Montreux Initiative 2007).  

The Montreaux Initiative was fast tracked and by the end of 2006, it was entering a new phase consisting of capacity building, rigorous information campaigns and assessment of critical processes.  Capacity building was necessary to enable Islamic charities to embrace the principles of due diligence, accountability, financial good practice and transparency. Information campaign was targeted mainly at Western governments to gain support for the Montreaux Initiative by removing unnecessary barriers for Islamic charities. The assessment process envisaged appointment of an international board of trustees with mandate for assessing compliance of Islamic charities with national and international standards.    

After a series of consultations with leading Islamic charities, donor groups and experts, responsibility for furthering the objectives of Montreaux Initiative was entrusted to a technical core team comprising of representatives from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, an independent adviser, an expert in international charity laws and regulations and four experts on Islamic charities. A supervisory body was created which was headed by a chief executive officer. Among other duties, this body was responsible for facilitating consultations with wider stakeholders, formulating statutes for future plans and arranging for future funding of the Montreaux Initiative. The government of Switzerland, as well as the governments of other countries would support the Montreaux Initiative on grounds that they had set up mechanisms to improve relations with Islamic charities and by extension the Islamic world following 9/11 attacks. Therefore, the Montreaux Initiative provided a platform that complemented individual efforts undertaken by each respectful government. However, the Montreaux Initiative differed from other similar initiatives in that it set practical goals that would be realised in the short term. Any success gained by the Montreaux Initiative initially would make a significant contribution to the long-term objective of facilitating mutual understanding and dialogue between Islamic charities and Western governments. This was crucial because at the time, a number of Islamic charities were suspected of engaging in terror financing (Montreux Initiative 2007). 

The Montreaux document role

The Montreaux Initiative played a crucial role in assessing the financial management, governance and project management approaches of a number of Islamic charities against set standards to ensure that the charities were operating lawfully. In the process, suspicions were identified over a small number of Islamic charities. For the suspected charities, further investigations were conducted and their names forwarded to the responsible government for disciplinary and legal action. In the United States and the United Kingdom, for instance, a few Islamic charities and NGOs were blacklisted and eventually suspended for contravening the law. Among other accusations were that the suspended charities had maintained ties with proscribed terrorist groups or had engaged in money laundering g activities.  Nonetheless, the Montreaux Initiative accepted that a vast majority of Islamic charities were engaged in legitimate operations and that they were transparent and accountable for all their financial resources.

Following a series of legal and administrative restrictions imposed upon charities as part of the global war on terror, the Montreaux Initiative sought to address specific restrictions that legitimate Islamic charities would be facing. Apparently, the Montreaux Initiative felt that indiscriminate blacklisting of many Islamic charities without concrete evidence that they were involved in unlawful activities would result in unprecedented resentment in the Islamic world. Among Muslims, the tradition of charity is widely practiced and regarded as a fundamental part of Islamic moral and religious heritage. 

As part of its operations, the Montreaux Initiative would have practical effects by allowing charitable organizations in the Islamic world (particularly in the Middle East region) to present a strong case of their dissociation from unlawful political and military engagements. This consideration was crucial because a number of charities in the region (such as Hamas) had been suspected of being terrorist groups disguised as Islamic charities (Levitt 2006, p. 32). Thus, Montreaux Initiative would contribute to a number of these charities gaining acceptability and legitimacy within the international relief community as well as partner development agencies. In the long run, this would have positive effects in the enrichment of the civil society across the Islamic world.      

The Montreaux Initiative was to work in accordance with diverse legal standards for charity groups. Some of these legal standards overlapped in respect of certain provisions. For instance, the Swiss laws were more stringent and comprehensive in their definition of legitimate charity groups. Despite these differences, the Montreaux Initiative had a responsibility to respect and work in accordance with local charity laws. In most cases, local laws about charity concurred in most aspects. For instance, charity laws in all countries agreed that it is illegitimate for charity groups to channel funds into suspected terrorist groups. Thus, any charitable organizations found to have given financial aid to terrorist groups would be banned regardless of the country in which it operated. Even if the organization was not banned, it would fail the Montreaux Initiative assessment because it would be difficult to meet accreditation standards for legitimacy (Montreux Initiative 2007).

The Montreaux Initiative called for a number of procedures to be put in place to help Islamic charities overcome unjustified obstacles. For example, if an Islamic charity suffered from denial of accreditation (for a particular reason), Montreaux Initiative would consider the situation and commence a process of high level lobbying with the authority or organization responsible for the obstacle. Such lobbying would only be effective when conducted in an environment of transparency, objectivity and openness. However, since some charities feared that the Montreaux initiative could b e used to gather intelligence against them, there was need for openness on the part of the founders of the initiative.