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Senate Committee on Human Rights: Federal inaction limiting needed Afghanistan aid: Senate report


Ottawa – The federal government is doing little to allow aid groups to help Afghanistan’s suffering civilians, the Senate Committee on Human Rights said in a report released on December 14, 2022.

Canada still considers the Taliban to be a terrorist group; with the Taliban in power in Afghanistan, any entity that provides even indirect support — e.g., by paying taxes — risks violating Canada’s anti-terror laws. 

The House of Commons’ Special Committee on Afghanistan released a report in June 2022 that included recommendations to address this issue; in its October 2022 response, the government agreed it should “act immediately.”

Thus far, these words have not been followed by action. As such, the Senate’s human rights committee undertook a short study on the issue to reiterate its importance and to prod the federal government into activity.

To that end, the committee held a meeting on December 5, 2022. Witnesses painted a grim picture of the cost of government inaction. Three cabinet ministers and three parliamentary secretaries were also invited to appear, but they declined.

While there have been encouraging signs that the government may seek to amend anti-terror laws to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, the committee reiterates the recommendation that the Attorney General of Canada immediately publish guarantees that terror charges will not be laid where legitimate humanitarian aid results in an incidental benefit to a terrorist group. In addition, the Attorney General should consult with its provincial counterparts to seek similar guarantees. 

The committee also recommends that the government increase its humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan from the $143 million it provided in 2022.

Quick Facts

There is an extreme need for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. The committee heard that more than 35 million Afghans have been displaced, 80% of whom are women and children. One million children are at risk of starving to death.

On December 21, 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution requiring states to freeze all financial and economic resources used to support the Taliban; on December 22, 2021, an additional resolution clarified that providing humanitarian assistance would not constitute a violation of the 2015 resolution. However, it is still an offence under Canada’s Criminal Code to make property, financial or other related services available for the use or benefit of a terrorist group. 

In a recent news report, the Minister of International Development said the federal government would likely seek to amend the Criminal Code in the new year to make it easier for humanitarian groups to operate in Afghanistan. 


“The lives of millions of Afghan civilians — mostly women and children — are at risk. Will the federal government continue to stand in the way of aid groups that are poised to help? Time is running out.”

– Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Chair of the committee 

“The work of our committee, the House of Commons and the evidence of dozens of witnesses has provided clear direction as to how the federal government can help the people of Afghanistan. The government must act now or be complicit in a growing humanitarian crisis.” 

– Senator Ratna Omidvar, member of the committee

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