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Proscription of Hizballah: a change in the UK and how Australia compares


The United Kingdom has expanded its proscription of Hizballah from just the military wing to include the whole organisation, effective from 1 March 2019. The Home Secretary stated that he hoped Australia and New Zealand would be listening carefully, and that he would raise the matter at the Five Eyes ministerial to be held in the UK later this year. This FlagPost outlines the bans in place in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US and the UK, the UK Government’s rationale for the recent change, and the Australian Government’s response.

The Five Eyes countries, among others, each have mechanisms to proscribe organisations as terrorist organisations. In Australia, this is done through regulations made under Division 102 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 on the advice of the relevant minister (currently the Minister for Home Affairs). Proscription as a terrorist organisation means that offences apply in relation to the organisation. For example, in Australia, offences include membership of, associating with, providing support to, and recruiting for a terrorist organisation.

The table below outlines how Hizballah has been proscribed in the Five Eyes countries. While the other four countries have retained the same listings, the UK has gradually expanded its listing of Hizballah from the External Security Organisation (ESO) to the entire military wing and finally, the whole organisation.

 

Current listing

Historical listings

Australia

Hizballah’s ESO

Only the ESO has been listed (since June 2003).

Canada

Hizballah

Hizballah has been listed in its entirety since December 2002.

New Zealand

Hizballah’s military wing

Only the military wing (Islamic Resistance) has been listed (since October 2010).

United Kingdom

Hizballah

The ESO was listed in 2001. The listing was expanded to the whole of the military wing in 2008.

United States

Hizballah

Hizballah has been listed in its entirety since October 1997.

When Australia first listed Hizballah’s ESO in 2003, a media release issued by the Attorney-General stated:

Ultimately, Hizballah aims to create a Shi-a Islamic state in Lebanon and remove all Western and Israeli influences in the region. Hizballah has employed military action and terror tactics in order to achieve its objectives.

While it began as a militia, the group has evolved into a multi-faceted organisation including political, social and military components. The functions of the organisation include legitimate political and social activities. However the ESO comprises a distinct terrorist wing.

Information accompanying the current listing of Hizballah (effective 2 May 2018) maintains the same position:

The broader goals of Hizballah are the 'liberation' of Jerusalem, the destruction of Israel, and the establishment of a Shia-led Islamic state in Lebanon. 

The ESO sits under the military wing of Hizballah: alongside, but distinct from, Hizballah's formal militia and military activity. The ESO operates as a discrete branch or entity within Hizballah. ESO operations include procurement, intelligence, counter intelligence, surveillance, planning, coordination and execution of terrorist attacks against Hizballah's enemies outside of Lebanon.

It further states that there is no indication that the ESO’s role or place in Hizballah’s structure has changed in recent times.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) and its predecessor committee have conducted reviews of terrorist organisation listings (and re-listings) made from May 2004 onwards.

The PJCIS’s review of the 2009 re-listing of the ESO noted that the committee had received a submission from the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council urging it to recommend listing of the entire organisation. The submission argued that Hizballah’s leadership ‘explicitly rules out a distinction between its political and military wings’ and ‘plans and expresses support for terrorist attacks’, and that Australia’s prohibition on funding to Hizballah indicates that ‘Australia already effectively considers Hezbollah to be a cohesive unit, all components of which constitute a terrorist organisation’.

The PJCIS was not persuaded to do so. It accepted the Government’s position that the ESO was a distinct wing of Hizballah and was responsible for most of the activity that meets the criteria for proscription as a terrorist organisation.

The 2009 submission appears to be the only one made to the committee advocating the proscription of Hizballah as a whole. However, the committee has considered the issue more recently:

  • The PJCIS’s review of the 2012 re-listing stated that it was satisfied that terrorist acts and related fundraising attributed to Hizballah involve the ESO.
  • The report on the 2015 re-listing indicated that the committee questioned agencies about whether it remained appropriate to proscribe only the ESO, and that their responses satisfied the committee that it was. The committee noted its view that listing only the ESO ‘provides flexibility by allowing competing interests to be considered and unintended consequences that may hinder counter terrorism efforts to be avoided’.
  • The report on the 2018 re-listing again supported the listing, but also noted that Australia’s proscription of the ESO was now ‘somewhat inconsistent’ with the listings of its Five Eyes partners. The committee considered that more detail should have been provided for the decision to continue listing only the ESO, and recommended that the Government ‘give further consideration to extending the listing to include the military wing of Hizballah’.

Explaining the UK Government’s rationale for expanding its listing from the military wing to the whole organisation, the Home Secretary stated:

… There have long been calls to ban the whole group, with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors. Hezbollah itself has laughed off the suggestion that there is a difference. I have carefully considered the evidence and I am satisfied that they are one and the same, with the entire organisation being linked to terrorism.

This Government have continued to call on Hezbollah to end its armed status; it has not listened. Indeed, its behaviour has escalated; the distinction between its political and military wings is now untenable. It is right that we act now to proscribe this entire organisation.

Asked about what had changed in the last 13 months to lead the Government to change its position, the Home Secretary stated:

… in terms of open source information it is evident that Hezbollah has got more involved in and drawn into the Syrian conflict, and is responsible for the death and injury of countless innocent civilians.

Asked whether Australia would consider following the UK’s lead, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said that she would seek the UK Foreign Secretary’s perspective on the matter and discuss it with her colleagues, stating:

We have measures in place, as you know, particularly in relation to the ESO and the criminal sort of threshold around criminal behaviour but I would want to look at that carefully with my colleagues.

The Australian Labor Party does not appear to have commented publicly on the issue since the recent change in the UK.

The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry have used the UK’s change of policy as an opportunity to renew their calls for the Australian Government to proscribe Hizballah in its entirety.

Australia’s current proscription of Hizballah’s ESO is effective to 2 May 2021 unless the regulation is repealed or replaced, or ceases, before that date.

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