Kenya is urging the UN to list Al-Shabaab under the same sanctions as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, but foreign donors say the move could leave millions in drought-stricken Somalia without aid.
The proposed listing — which could take effect as soon as Thursday — comes at a critical time in Somalia, where 2.2 million people, or nearly 18 per cent of the population, face the risk of severe hunger.
Al-Shabaab is already targeted under broader sanctions imposed by the United Nations on Somalia, which is heavily aid-dependent after three decades of conflict and economic ruin.
Right now, UN agencies and humanitarian organisations are exempt from this sanction, which enables them to deliver urgent aid without prosecution when they venture into territory controlled by Al-Shabaab.
But Kenya wants to tighten the screws on the jihadist group after several deadly attacks on its soil, and the sanctions regime it proposes would remove that safeguard.
“A measure like this will have the effect of criminalising humanitarian aid,” Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International, told AFP.
“Any measure that would impact the current provision of aid would have extremely serious and substantial implications.”
If no member state objects before August 29 the Al-Shabaab listing under Security Council resolution 1267 will take immediate effect.
Hundreds of millions of aid dollars for Somalia will then be thrown into doubt.
In some cases, foreign donors said they may need to freeze payments for up to a year as they consider how to comply with the new sanctions, said an aid source in New York liaising with the UN on the issue.
“We would be operating in a huge grey area. As humanitarian actors, we would have this huge dilemma of carrying on providing aid, or we stop altogether,” the official working for a large global charity told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Another concern is that banks, fearing repercussions, could limit financial services to humanitarian agencies working in Somalia — a process known as “de-risking” that makes it difficult to transfer money and fund programmes.
The looming deadline has sparked a flurry of lobbying at Security Council headquarters in New York.