Human Aid UK has accused the Charity Commission of “clear bias against Muslim charities” after the government agency decided to take no further action against the charity following a two year investigation.
The inquiry was triggered by the seizure of donations by UK border police on July 9, 2019 despite the fact that Human Aid repeatedly asserted the funds were lawful and for charitable purposes only.
The Commission says it strongly rejects any suggestion of bias in its investigative work.
Following the decision Human Aid UK said the Charity Commission report had “vindicated” them.
The charity said: “Human Aid UK welcomes the closure of a long drawn out inquiry after the publication of the Charity Commission Inquiry report today, which concluded that no further action will be taken against the charity. This vindicates a number of claims that Human Aid UK made over the past two years asserting that the Commission was being excessive in its approach and effectively acting as an extension of police and security services harassment policy.
“The wasteful inquiry has lasted over two years and was triggered by the heavy-handed seizure by police of charitable funds destined for Gaza. Even after the police were forced to return the funds in May 2020, and having found nothing illegal related to the funds, the Commission still continued the inquiry. This claimed valuable time and resources that would have been better spent delivering life-saving assistance in Syria, Gaza and Yemen.
“Human Aid UK raised complaints of police harassment and institutional Islamophobia numerous times, in previous press releases and in communications with the Commission. It was evident that the police exploited the powers of the Commission to outsource the harassment, which inevitably led to the opening of the Statutory Inquiry.
“Human Aid UK has spoken to several Muslim charities who all have cited continual harassment and Islamophobia from the Police, Security Services, as well as the Charity Commission. These concerns have been identified previously in a report published by the thinktank Claystone in 2014, citing that Muslim Charities are being unfairly targeted.
“The institutional islamophobia faced by Human Aid UK has been further compounded in the way the Commission has presented certain events in the two-year investigation, using incriminating language against the charity. Human Aid UK recently made a representation to the Commission requesting a more balanced presentation of facts and incidents, especially since the Commission ruled that no further action was to be taken, yet the Commission still rejected the request.
“The institutional bias of the Charity Commission report into Human Aid UK is evident when compared to the report into the serious allegations of sexual misconduct at Oxfam a non-Muslim charity, which was completed in less time, and which resulted in a carefully worded 143-page report. This should be compared with the 10-page report into Human Aid UK that features defamatory terms such as ‘irresponsible and reckless’ and ‘serious disregard,’ despite the conclusion of no further action taken against Human Aid UK.”
Nur Choudhury, Chair of Human Aid UK, added: “After over two years of investigation, which has consumed resources that would have been better used to assist the needy in Syria, Gaza and Yemen, we are pleased that the Charity Commission has concluded with no further action against Human Aid UK. The Charity can now focus single-mindedly on serving its many beneficiaries around the world.
“Despite this, the report is a bitter pill to swallow, since it includes unnecessarily incriminating language that we feel is defamatory and inaccurate, and which casts undue suspicion on us and Muslim charities in general, putting us in a position where we must spend extra energy dispelling unwarranted assumptions.
“When we compare the language and format of the Commission’s report into much more serious allegations against Oxfam for example, we do feel that there is evidence of a problem of bias and Islamophobia at the Commission. We hope that this report opens dialogue into these problems, and that the Commission finally agree to our request for a meeting with them and other Muslim charities to solve this pressing issue.”
Responding to Human Aid UK’s criticism, the Charity Commission said: “The report published today explains why we opened an inquiry into Human Aid UK, and lays out the serious findings the inquiry made, which speak for themselves.
“We strongly reject any suggestion of bias in our investigative work. The Commission assesses all concerns raised with us fairly and consistently in line with a published risk framework. The framework explains how we determine whether a concern or issue requires our regulatory involvement, and if so what the appropriate response is. We are clear that our investigations do not focus on any specific religious classification. We have asked for more information from the charity about the proposed meeting.”
The Charity commission added that the trustees of Human Aid UK have not appealed the Commission’s decisions nor have they made use of the Commission’s complaints process.
Charity Commission report
In July 2019 Human Aid UK workers were stopped at Heathrow Airport by Border Police under controversial Schedule 7 counter terrorism laws as they were about to travel to the besieged Gaza Strip to deliver aid. They were searched and monies they were carrying were seized.
Schedule 7 allows UK Border Police to stop anyone to determine whether they are involved in planning terrorist acts. The powers do not require officers to have any reason for suspicion.
The stops happened after the Charity Commission had visited Human Aid offices only a day before to discuss cash carrying procedures on aid delegations. The seizure of money escalated into a Statutory Inquiry on August 2, 2019.
The Charity Commission inquiry report, published today, found that Human Aid UK was not properly managed or administered by trustees at specific times.
It particularly criticised the decision to allow cash-couriering to take place and to fund an organisation in Turkey (NPO) which police suspected of financing opposition groups in Syria.
The report said: “The Inquiry is of the view that the then trustees had a serious disregard for, and/or lack of understanding of, the importance of proper financial controls, record keeping and accountability in respect of the Charity’s overseas expenditure as evident from the absence of records to evidence and monitor how the Charity’s funds were applied by the NPO partner.
“The culpability here is further compounded by the fact that despite requests from the Charity for outstanding monitoring documentation to be submitted by the NPO, which was not forthcoming, the Charity continued to provide funding and/or aid to the NPO regardless. This includes four aid containers being sent to the NPO with an estimated value of £77,689.06 at a time when the Charity was chasing up outstanding records in relation to the payment of £83,380 in May 2018.”
However, the report added that “since the Commission’s intervention in 2019 there have been improvements in the Charity’s governance and the trustees have shown a willingness to take on board the regulatory advice and guidance provided by the Commission.”
The report concluded: “Many charities are based in the UK and send money to projects, charities, not for profit organisations and direct to beneficiaries in other countries – these charities carry out invaluable work, in challenging circumstances, often helping the neediest in society.
“Trustees of such charities may need to take additional steps to ensure that charitable funds are properly used and reach intended beneficiaries… When working internationally, charities often operate through local partners rather than establishing their own delivery infrastructure in their country or region of operation. Working through or with a local partner can be an effective way of delivering significant benefits direct to a local community.
“It does not, however, shift or alleviate responsibility for ensuring the proper application of the charity’s funds by the local partner. That responsibility always remains with the charity trustees, forming part of their duties and responsibilities under charity law. The need to implement risk strategies therefore remains critical.”