Washington, DC-A coalition of humanitarian relief and human rights organizations called on the U.S. government today to lift restrictions that prevent American non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from undertaking humanitarian projects in Iran.
In a letter sent to Congress, the State Department and the Treasury Department, the coalition expressed concern that U.S. Iran policy undermines legitimate humanitarian efforts, unnecessarily restricting American NGOs while punishing innocent Iranians. The letter's cosigners are comprised of non-profit organizations that have worked, or sought to work, in Iran for human rights and humanitarian purposes.
Currently, it is illegal for American NGOs to establish operations in Iran unless granted an explicit authorization from the Treasury Department, authorization that is rarely provided.
"We are a group of Iranian-American mothers who simply want to ease the suffering of children," said Delfarib Fanaie, co-founder of Moms Against Poverty, an organization that has successfully partnered with schools and NGOs in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and the United States to support the needs of children. But efforts to rebuild orphanages in Iran have been hindered by U.S. policies.
"We have been waiting for 6 months for approval to start projects to help orphans in Iran," Fanaie said. "Every day that passes, these children suffer through unnecessary conditions that we have the resources to change. But until we are approved, there is nothing we can do."
Easing U.S. restrictions that hurt the people of Iran is not without precedent.
This past March, the State Department and Treasury Department acted to lift sanctions preventing Internet communication software from going to sanctioned countries, citing the harmful effect of these sanctions on U.S. national interests. Legislation has been introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison in the House of Representatives, the Stand With the Iranian People Act (H.R.4303), that would enable U.S. non-profit organizations to work in Iran for humanitarian purposes.
"The last thing the U.S. should do is stand in the way of humanitarian organizations who want to help innocent Iranians," said Jamal Abdi, Policy Director of the National Iranian American Council. "Members of Congress and the Administration have spoken out about the suffering of the Iranian people. Now it is time to put action behind those words and fix policies that hurt innocent Iranians."
A copy of the letter is appended below. The letter's co-signers are:
April 20, 2010
To: Members of Congress
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
As organizations dedicated to combating human suffering, we are troubled that legitimate human rights and humanitarian relief organizations continue to be barred from working in Iran, not by the Iranian government, but rather by U.S. regulations. The prohibition on legitimate activities runs counter to America's long-standing commitment to support those populations around the world who are most in need. This must be corrected.
Therefore, we call upon Congress and the Administration to take appropriate steps to ensure that existing U.S. sanctions do not continue to prevent American non-profit organizations from establishing operations in Iran, and providing relief and humanitarian assistance directly to the Iranian people.
Under current restrictions, nonprofit organizations are prohibited from carrying out operations or providing assistance to Iran without explicit authorization from the U.S. Treasury Department-authorization which is rarely, if ever, granted.
These policies have had the unintended effect of undermining legitimate U.S. humanitarian efforts in Iran and contributing to the suffering of innocent Iranians. This simply should not be the case.
Following the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, some relief organizations were provided temporary, limited licenses to operate in Iran and to provide essential humanitarian services. Unfortunately, these licenses have long since expired and the blanket restrictions on provision of such services have been reimposed.
Many American nonprofit organizations stand ready and eager to do what they can to ease the suffering of the Iranian people. We urge Congress and the Administration to act quickly and comprehensively to ensure that U.S. policy no longer stands in the way of nonprofit organizations seeking to work directly with the Iranian people.
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