Shawcross: The Charity Commission is not ‘targeting’ Muslim charities

30 Sep 2014 News

William Shawcross has insisted that the regulator is not “disproportionately” focusing on Muslim charities, as Theresa May promises new powers for the Commission to tackle terrorism.

William Shawcross has insisted that the regulator is not “disproportionately” focusing on Muslim charities, as Theresa May promises new powers for the Charity Commission to tackle terrorism at the Conservative Party Conference.

The Charity Commission's chair, speaking at Leeds Voluntary Action’s annual general meeting last week, said: “It is emphatically not the case that the Commission is targeting or disproportionately focusing on charities with links to Muslim communities.”

Shawcross said that the “misconception” that Muslim charities are being targeted could have come about because of the Commission’s recent decision to publicly announce most of its investigations that it has opened, and said it would be wrong to exclude Muslim charities.

According to Commission figures there are 500 charities which say that they work in Syria, and 201 of those registered since the start of the current Middle East conflict. “They are therefore inexperienced and potentially vulnerable to exploitation. Assistance in the area is essential, but we have stressed the risks that such charities may – knowingly or not – be abused for extremist purposes,” he said.

The regulator has announced four formal investigations in charities connected to activity in Syria.     

Shawcross added that the Commission has produced a video to help the public make informed decisions about who to donate to and said: “Some commentators have implied that by pointing to these risks, we are treating charities unfairly. I disagree. We would be reneging on our duty as regulator if we did not alert charities to the dangers they face.”

He also said that Charity Commission staff, including new chief executive Paula Sussex, have been meeting with Muslim charity leaders around the country.

He warned that the crisis in the Middle East, with the civil war in Syria and rise of Isis, could have a “disastrous impact on charities operating in the region”.

“One concern is that the seriousness of the situation is such that people might be deterred from giving because it seems so desperate and hopeless,” he explained. “We must not allow that to happen. But neither should we underestimate the extreme gravity of the threat we now all face.”

Enhanced powers for the Commission

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Theresa May today told the Conservative Party Conference that a future Conservative government would give the Charity Commission enhanced powers to tackle terrorist threats.

Speaking in a session on home affairs and justice, she said that the government would be “toughening up the charity rules and powers of the Charity Commission”.

May went on to say that Prevent, the government policy which aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, will be made a statutory duty for all public sector organisations. She also said the Home Office will soon, for the first time, assume responsibility for a new counter-extremism strategy that goes beyond terrorism.

Devised and overseen by the Home Office, its implementation will be “the responsibility of the whole of government, the rest of the public sector, and wider civil society”.

The strategy will aim to “undermine and eliminate extremism in all its forms”, as it aims to build up society to “identify extremism, confront it, challenge it and defeat it”.

Additional reporting by Alice Sharman

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