NIAC Statement on Protests across Iran over Gas Price Hike

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Saturday, November 16, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org 

WASHINGTON DC – Yesterday, protests erupted across Iran as the government announced an unexpected increase in and rationing of gasoline. Reports suggest that authorities have violently cracked down on the protests. 

In response to these developments, NIAC Senior Research Analyst Sina Toossi issued the following statement:

“NIAC is closely tracking reports of protests in many Iranian cities after the government announced an increase in the price of gasoline. NIAC condemns the Iranian government’s use of force used to disperse protestors, as seen in videos showing the deployment of riot police and tear gas in parts of Iran, as well as efforts to stifle communication by limiting internet access. The Iranian people have an inalienable right to peacefully demonstrate and express their economic and political grievances. The Iranian government denies them this right at its own peril.

“Ordinary Iranians have borne immense economic hardship due to government mismanagement and U.S. sanctions. Importantly, the Iranian political system is not monolithic and there are signs that more hardline elements seek to capitalize on public grievances to advance their own narrow aims. Rather than empower the Iranian people, the Trump administration’s fixation on ‘maximum pressure’ has served to embolden such forces. 

“The international community must push the Iranian government to abide by its human rights obligations, allow the Iranian people to peaceful demonstrate and air their grievances, and hold repressive forces to account for abuses. The protests are also occurring in the broader context of protests across the world and in the Middle East, as a consequence of government mismanagement and objections to price hikes on everyday commodities that hurt ordinary people. Under no circumstances should any government stifle the will of its people, and Iran arguably has a greater chasm of mistrust than most.

“NIAC also reiterates its call on the U.S. to end its policy of collectively punishing sanctions, which serve to impoverish ordinary Iranians and undermine hopes for democratic change. Starving the Iranian population only creates a destructive situation that eliminates avenues for the vital diplomacy necessary to secure a brighter future for the Iranian people.”

یک پیروزی برای زنان ایران و الگویی برای تغییر

مبارزه برای گرفتن حق حضور زنان ایرانی در استادیوم‌های فوتبال سالهاست که توسط مدافعان حقوق زنان و فعالان مدنی داخل کشور در جریان بوده است. همانگونه که در فیلم آفساید، محصول سال ۲۰۰۶ به کارگردانی جعفر پناهی به تصویر کشیده شد، مسئله تنها به برابری حقوق جنسیتی محدود نبوده و حس عمیق غرور ملی و عشق به ورزش و کشور را هم در بر می‌گیرد. در فیلم پناهی که بسیار هم مورد تجلیل قرار گرفت، گروهی از زنان هنگامی که سعی داشتند برای تماشای یک بازی مقدماتی جام جهانی، با گریم مردانه یواشکی وارد استادیوم شوند، گیر میافتند. در حالی که فیلم بر دیالوگ بین این زنان با ماموران محافظ استادیوم متمرکز است، پایان فیلم چالش‌هایی که کماکان زنان ایرانی با آن درگیرند را برجسته می کند. در پایانی تلخ و شیرین، تصاویری واقعی از جشن پیروزی ایرانی‌ها پخش می شود. در حالی که این زنان از ورودشان به استادیوم جلوگیری شده، در اتوبوسی که دارد از استادیوم آنها را می برد به خبر پیروزی تیم ملی کشورشان گوش می کنند.

اما بالاخره خبر خوبی از راه رسید. در هجدهم مهرماه، مقامات ایرانی نهایتا ً کوتاه آمدند و به زنان اجازه دادند تا برای نخستین بار بعد از روزهای اول انقلاب، برای تماشای یک بازی مهم فوتبال به استادیوم بیایند. برای تکمیل این پیروزی، تیم ملی ایران با نتیجه باورنکردنی ۱۴ گل در برابر تیم حریف به پیروزی رسید ــ شاید بواسطه انرژی مثبتی که از تصاویر زنانی که در استادیوم به جشن و تشویق مشغولند قابل لمس است ــ این قطعا ً روز خوبی برای ایرانیان بود.

مبارزه برای حقوق بشر در داخل ایران مسیری سخت و طولانی را طی کرده است. در بین ایرانیان خارج از کشور، تلاش‌های واقعی برای حمایت از این آرمان، به جای آنکه بر پیشرفت معنادار سیاسی و ارتباط سازنده متمرکز باشد، در بسیاری از موارد به شاخصی برای ارزش‌گذاری و آزمونی برای سنجش ائیدولوژیک تقلیل یافته است. پیروزی ــ هر چند کوچک ــ که در تضمین حق ورود زنان به استادیوم‌های فوتبال به دست آمد، فرصتی است برای ارزیابی اتفاقات درستی که به این پیروزی انجامید و اینکه چگونه می توان از این تحولات کوچک برای تحقق تحولات بعدی الگو برداری کرد.

نسبت به سایر جنبش‌های اجتماعی که برای تغییر رفتار حکومت ایران تلاش می کنند، این جنبش از آغاز بر پایه‌ای بهتر برای موفقیت استوار شد، به این دلیل که پیشبرد آن توسط ایرانیان داخل کشور و برای آنها انجام شد. نیل به این هدف هزینه عظیمی در برداشت؛ علاوه بر تمام زنان هوادار فوتبال که در تلاش خود برای به دست آوردن حقوق برابر جرأت کردند که از دستورات مقامهای حکومت سرپیچی کنند و به این خاطر زندانی هم شدند، حد نهایت آن، قربانی شدن سحر خدایاری، معروف به دختر آبی بود. تلاشهای آنها توسط سازمان‌های حقوق بشری و رسانه‌های برون مرزی که مبارزه این زنان برای حقوق برابر را بازتاب دادند تقویت شد. مجموع این تلاشها به اهرمی برای اعمال فشار افکار عمومی بر فیفا تبدیل شد. فیفا نیز به نوبه خود از وزن فدراسیون جهانی برای اعمال فشار بر مقامات ایران استفاده کرد تا این تغییر ایجاد شود.

البته فشار فیفا تنها به این خاطر موثر بود که ایران در این بازی یک سهمی داشت، یعنی به معنای واقعی کلمه امکان حضورش در بازی‌های بین‌المللی در گرو حل این مسئله بود. فرض کنید مثل بسیاری از تشکلها، شرکتها و حتی دولت‌هایی که هیچ ارتباطی با ایران ندارند و در نتیجه هیچ مشوقی هم برای مجاب کردن مقامات ایران به نرمش ندارند، رابطه فیفا هم بواسطه تحریمها با ایران قطع شده بود. در مورد ایران، طبق گفته مشهور جرج دبلیو بوش، آمریکا با اعمال تحریم، خود را از تاثیرگذاری بر داخل ایران محروم کرده است. و حالا، به بواسطه نظام تحریم‌های یک جانبه‌ای که توسط دولت ترامپ علیه ایران اعمال شده، آمریکا تضمین کرده که بخش اعظم سایر کشورهای جهان هم از تاثیرگذاری بر داخل ایران محروم شوند. در نتیجه، به جای آنکه بتوانند از موفقیت فیفا در تاثیرگذاری بر سیاستهای حکومت ایران الگو برداری کنند، مجموعه‌هایی که مایلند تغییری در رفتار حکومت ایران ایجاد کنند تنها می توانند همان کاری را بکنند که دولت آمریکا می کند: یعنی صدور اولتیماتوم و طرح درخواست‌های تخیلی، بدون ارائه مشوقی جز تهدید به اعمال مجازات‌های حتی شدیدتر، تهدیداتی که حکومت ایران تصمیم گرفته با آنها سر کند.
حالا تصور کنید که ایالات متحده به توافق هسته‌ای با ایران پایبند مانده بود، شرکت‌های آمریکایی حضوری تجاری در ایران داشتند، موسسات آموزشی دو کشور برای تسهیل ارتباطات آکادمیک می کوشیدند و دولتهای ایران و آمریکا در عرصه‌های علمی و پروژه‌های زیست محیطی با یکدیگر همکاری داشتند. اگر احتمالی بود که آن شرکتها، موسسات آموزشی و سایر نهادهای مشترک، همانند فیفا تهدید به قطع ارتباط کنند، در آن صورت ایران چیزی برای از دست دادن داشت. در عوض سیاست آمریکا در منزوی کردن ایران شرایطی ایجاد کرده که دولت ایران چیزی برای از دست دادن ندارد.

البته پیش از راهیابی زنان به استادیوم‌ها، پیروزی‌های دیگری در حوزه حقوق بشر به دست آمد. سازمان نایاک از تعیین یک گزارشگر حقوق بشر در سال ۲۰۱۱ برای ایران حمایت کرد. این تلاش یک تفاوت فرخنده با انواع فعالیتهای حقوق بشری معمول که ما در ایالات متحده شاهد آن هستیم دارد، فعالیتهایی که بعضا ً در حد صدور بیانیه‌های محکومیت، ژستهای سمبولیک یا شعارهای تحریک آمیز محدود می شود، اقداماتی که بعید است در رهبری هیچ کشوری انگیزه‌ای برای تغییر رفتار ایجاد کند. با تعیین گزارشکر ویژه حقوق بشر، سازمان ملل متحد یک مجرای ارتباطی مورد نیاز ایجاد کرد که مقامات ایرانی، بعد از سالها مقاومت، در نهایت آنرا پذیرفتند. هر چند به ندرت به آن اشاره می شود، اما تلاش‌های گزارشگر حقوق بشر سازمان ملل به پایان دادن به مجازات اعدام برای جرائم مواد مخدر کمک کرده و چون از این اتهام برای تسویه حساب‌های سیاسی و سرکوب مخالفان هم استفاده می‌شد، عملا ً جان هزاران نفر را نجات داده است. اینها پیروزی‌های کوچکی هستند که برای ایجاد تغییر به آنها نیاز است. تاثیر این اقدامات به مراتب بیشتر از بیانیه‌های ایدئولوژیک و محکومیت‌های از راه دور احساس می شوند.

بهترین کاری که ما می توانیم به عنوان ایرانی ساکن خارج از کشور و مدافع توسعه اجتماعی در ایران انجام دهیم، تشویق و ترغیب برقراری گفتمان چند جانبه، دو جانبه، غیر رسمی و هر نوع دیالوگ ممکن با ایران است، تا فضاهایی واقعی برای گفتگو درباره حقوق بشر ایجاد شود همراه با نتایج واقعی، ورای ژست‌های تو خالی. پایان دادن به انزوای اقتصادی ایران و ارتباط با این کشور موجب می‌شود که حکومت ایران در قبال عدم پاسداشت استانداردهای حقوق بشری، چیزی برای از دست دادن داشته باشد. این تحول اگر با اطلاع رسانی نسبت به موارد نقض حقوق بشر همراه باشد می تواند تلاش‌های فعالانی که در درون کشور برای ارتقای حقوق بشر تلاش می کنند را تقویت کند. آنچه که ما نمی‌توانیم انجام دهیم، مگر آنکه بخواهیم به جامعه مدنی ایران بیشتر لطمه بزنیم، مصادره به مطلوب تلاش‌ها و جنبش‌های مردم ایران است، و یا اینکه اجازه بدهیم دیگران برای مقاصد پنهان خود از این تلاشها سوء استفاده کنند.

به عنوان آمریکایی‌های ایرانی‌تباری که مشتاق کمک به تسریع پیشرفت مدنی در ایران هستیم، ما باید اینجا در ایالات متحده از دولت آمریکا به خاطر اقداماتش حسابرسی کنیم. هرچند عدم وجود روابط دیپلماتیک رسمی بین ایالات متحده و ایران، تاثیر ما را از ده‌ها هزار کیلومتر فاصله محدود می کند، اما ما می توانیم از دولت ایالات متحده بخواهیم تا با اقدامات سنجیده این امکان را برای ما فراهم کند که بتوانیم بخشی از تلاش‌های مشروع برای متعهد کردن دولت‌ها، از جمله دولت ایران، به استانداردهای جهانی باشیم.

برای آنکه ایرانیان بتوانند به حقوق بشری که حقشان است برسند، کارهای زیادی هست که باید انجام شود. به عنوان یک تشکل خارج از کشور، ما باید نسبت به آنهایی که داخل کشور کار واقعی را انجام می دهند، رویکردی راهبردی و توأم با شکیبایی اتخاذ کنیم. این دستاورد مهم زنان ایرانی به ما نشان داد که نه تنها در ایران راه پیشرفت وجود دارد، بلکه فداکاری صبورانه مردم ایران، همراه با حمایت متواضعانه خارج از کشور ــ در قبال طرح مطالبات حداکثری ــ می‌تواند تدریجا به شیرین‌ترین پیروزی‌ها منجر شود.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Report on Human Rights in Iran

The United Nations Special Rapporteur’s (SR) report on the situation of human rights in Iran was released on August 16th. The following is a brief summary and analysis of Javaid Rehman’s report. The full text of the report can be found here

  • The flash floods in March-April 2019 devastated millions of Iranians, resulting in everything from displacement to infrastructure damage and harm to the agricultural sector.
  • U.S. sanctions have devastated ordinary Iranians, triggered currency devaluation, and suffocated Iranian traders and businesses. This has resulted in increased inflation and austerity, which in turn exacerbated rising unemployment levels, poverty, and further limited the Iranian people’s access to health, education and other basic services.
  • Freedom of expression in Iran remains a major issue, as do violations to the right to life, liberty, due process, and fair trials. The judiciary continues to implement the death penalty, including with regard to child offenders.
  • Human rights activists and defenders, journalists, and women continue to be targeted, intimidated, harassed, and face unjust charges of acting against national security, among other tenuous charges.
  • Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities, including members of the Baha’i, Christian, Azeri, and Kurdish communities, are continually targeted and prevented from fully celebrating their culture, religion, and language.
  • While the number of executions has dropped, Iran still has one of the world’s highest execution rates. Though amending the anti-narcotics law helped to mitigate this, vague, politically driven charges like ‘moharebeh’ that carry the risk of the death penalty continue to exacerbate the issue.
  • Iran’s government must adhere to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Iran’s government must take seriously the Special Rapporteur’s current and previous recommendations–including his request to enter Iran on monitoring visits.

Thomas Erdbrink Denied Permission to Work in Iran

The New York Times has reported that the Iranian government has denied Tehran-based journalist, Thomas Erdbrink, permission to work since February of this year–a troubling sign of the diminishing position of journalists in Iran. The news comes after reports of increased harassment and arrests of Iranian journalists, including of Masoud Kazemi, who was handed a four and a half year prison sentence followed by a two-year writing ban. 

Erdbrink lives in Tehran with his Iranian wife, Newsha Tavakolian, who is a well-known photographer and has also been barred from doing her work. Erdbrink is one of the only foreign journalists who has been able to work in Iran for so many years, with a fair amount of access. Erdbrink’s evenhanded reporting has been a bridge between Iran and the outside world, showcasing parts of the country and population that are rarely seen or reported.

NIAC Statement on Politically Motivated Sentencing of Prominent Human Rights Lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh

NIAC is deeply concerned by reports that prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh reportedly faces up to a 38-year prison sentence and 148 lashes on fabricated, politically motivated charges. NIAC unequivocally condemns the Iranian government for its arbitrary and politically motivated detentions in contravention of Iran’s human rights obligations, and reiterates its call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sotoudeh, along with all prisoners of conscience.

Sotoudeh has for years defended those who have suffered rights abuses at the hands of the Iranian government. From her defense of Iran’s 2009 Green Movement protestors to her support for the anti-compulsory hijab activists of last spring, Sotoudeh remains one of Iran’s staunchest human rights advocates. Sotoudeh was released in September 2013—in what was widely seen as a good will gesture ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s first trip to the UN General Assembly—after more than two years of imprisonment on politically motivated charges following her work highlighting juvenile executions in Iran and her defense of human and civil rights protestors.

News of Sotoudeh’s sentencing comes only days ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th—and serves as a stark reminder of the restrictions and costs Iranian women continue to pay in their fight against compulsory hijab and systemic gender inequality. Since her arrest last June for representing three activists protesting compulsory hijab, Sotoudeh has endured two hunger strikes and refused to participate in her trial after being prevented from selecting her own lawyer. Her husband, fellow imprisoned human rights activist Reza Khandan, noted that she is being prosecuted on seven charges, most of which relate to her opposition to Iran’s compulsory hijab laws.

While the fault for Sotoudeh’s incarceration lies squarely with Iranian authorities, U.S. policymakers must carefully weigh the impact of pressure policies on empowering Tehran’s most reactionary forces and reducing our ability to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations. The Trump administration’s abrogation of the nuclear deal, imposition of inhumane sanctions, and ratcheting up of tensions with Iran has further emboldened Iran’s hardline forces that are not accountable to elected institutions. As hardliners seek to match Trump’s bellicosity and undermine moderates and the will of the Iranian people, human rights proponents like Sotoudeh often become the first victims.

ICJ Orders US to Provide Licenses for Food, Medicine, and Civil Aviation in Iran

Washington, DC – NIAC President Jamal Abdi issued the following statement after the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. must provide licenses for transactions related to medicine, food, civil aviation, and other humanitarian grounds:

“Today’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) reflects the consensus of the international community that access to medicine, food, and civil aviation must not be weaponized against an entire people for the political aims of one administration.

“The decision orders the Trump administration to take all necessary steps to ensure that its sanctions do not inhibit trade in humanitarian goods with Iran, including trade in agricultural commodities, medicine and medical devices, and spare parts for civil aviation.  The ICJ’s provisional order acknowledges the ‘irreparable harm’ that the Trump administration’s re-imposition of sanctions—in contravention of its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—could cause to Iran’s people, as the Trump administration prepares to upend Iran’s economy by prohibiting most foreign trade with Iran.   

“By virtue of the Court’s order, the Trump administration is now obligated as a matter of international law to take such actions as necessary to ensure trade in humanitarian goods with Iran, including through the issuance of all necessary licenses to guarantee the transfer of funds related to such trade. NIAC urges the Trump administration to adhere to the U.S.’s international law obligations and issue additional license authorizations to ensure that such humanitarian trade is left unaffected by the U.S.’s re-imposition of sanctions.  This should include—at a minimum—the institution of a direct banking channel between the U.S. and Iran so that exporters of humanitarian items are able to make and receive payments related to trade in humanitarian goods with Iran. Currently, all payments related to such trade in humanitarian goods must travel through third-country intermediary financial institutions before being received by a U.S. financial institution.”

“Prior to the Joint Plan of Action—the interim deal negotiated between the U.S., other major world powers, and Iran—U.S. sanctions inhibited humanitarian trade with Iran, as exporters were unable to receive payment related to their trade in humanitarian goods.  This led to significant shortfalls of medicine and medical devices in Iran, as was routinely reported in the U.S. and foreign press. By re-instituting these same sanctions, the Trump administration risks a return to this era with all its attendant harm to the Iranian people. The Court’s decision should leave the Trump administration with no choice but to take all necessary action to ensure that the Iranian people have access to medicine, medical devices, and safe civil aircraft.

“Members of the Trump administration have repeatedly attacked the institution of international courts that were in part established by the U.S. to prevent a repeat of the horrors of the early 20th century. While the administration’s antipathy toward international courts is well known, it would be nothing short of reprehensible for the administration to fail to take all necessary action to ensure that the Iranian people have access to medicine, medical devices, and safe civil aircraft. The international community should press the U.S. to uphold the court’s ruling.”

“Iran should also recognize that the foremost advocate of ensuring that sanctions do not block humanitarian goods for the Iranian people, Siamak Namazi, is now languishing in jail in Iran along with his father Baquer in a profound miscarriage of justice. As Iran presses the U.S. to comply with its international obligations, NIAC reiterates its call on Iranian authorities to release the Namazis, Xiyue Wang, other dual nationals and all prisoners of conscience unjustly held in Iran.”

Update (12:00 PM ET): 

“Rather than take the well-founded international concerns with America’s Iran sanctions seriously, Secretary Pompeo has decided to impetuously withdraw from a treaty aimed at solidifying friendly relations between the American and Iranian peoples. That treaty has proven immensely valuable to the United States historically, including in the judgment against Iran over the 1979 Hostage Crisis.

“As has been demonstrated by past and current experience, when the U.S. chokes off banking channels to Iran it also renders goods that should be exempt from U.S. sanctions – including life-saving medicine – impossible to deliver to the Iranian people. The U.S. could have ameliorated this serious concern of the Iranian people, including by establishing a clear banking channel between the U.S. and Iran for exempted goods. Instead, the Trump administration chose to render its rhetoric on the Iranian people even more hollow by further eroding the remaining infrastructure of U.S. relations with Iran.”

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NIAC Statement on Recent Demonstrations in Iran

Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement on ongoing protests in Iran:

“Like many, we are monitoring the demonstrations reported in parts of Iran. We are particularly disturbed by reports of clashes between protestors and police forces in Isfahan and a heavily securitized atmosphere in Shiraz. We reiterate our call to the Iranian government to uphold its international human rights obligations, including to allow the right to free expression, to respect the dignity and safety of every Iranian and to refrain from violence.

“We stand in solidarity with Iranians who seek a government that prioritizes the economic prosperity of Iranians, respects their human rights, and democratically represents them.

“Ultimately, like any other country, it is up to Iranians living in Iran to decide their country’s destiny. Outside countries or interests who seek to exploit the legitimate grievances of Iranians in order advance their own ulterior agendas only undermine the will of the Iranian people. As outside observers, we will continue our efforts to defend universal human rights and hold the Iranian government accountable to its international human rights obligations.”

NIAC Strongly Condemns the Iranian Judiciary’s Detention of Nasrin Sotoudeh

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Trita Parsi
Phone: 202-386-6325
Email: tparsi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement regarding Nasrin Sotoudeh’s unjust arrest and detention in Evin Prison:

“NIAC strongly condemns the Iranian judiciary’s detention of Sotoudeh and calls for the immediate release of her and all prisoners of conscience. Nasrin Sotoudeh, Iran’s most prominent human rights lawyer, has been arrested at her home and transferred to Evin Prison earlier today. Sotoudeh has dedicated her life to human rights and faced unjust imprisonment in the past. In 2012, after three years of confinement she went on multiple hunger strikes and her weight was reduced to 95 pounds. That same year she received the European Union’s highest human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Following her release, Sotoudeh was barred from the practice of law for three years but it was reduced to nine months.

“Most recently Sotoudeh has represented several young women who have been arrested for removing their hijabs as a form of protest in public. Her current arrest comes without a formal charge and was first reported on her husband’s Facebook page but later confirmed by the New York Times and BBC Persian. Iran’s Judiciary continues to terrorize its citizens with fabricated charges, zero due process, and inhumane prison conditions. Sotoudeh has devoted her life to defending the human dignity of her clients and now finds herself torn from her family and imprisoned. This is absolutely unacceptable and it is incumbent on Iran’s highest authorities to facilitate her release immediately.

“Many have feared there would be a worsening human rights situation and an emboldening of hardline elements in Iran with the heightening of tensions with the United States. Indeed, we have seen this pattern in the past and are concerned that Sotoudeh’s arrest is evidence this trend is repeating. Lost in much of the discourse over the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and announcement of new sanctions and escalatory measures has been the impact these external actions may have on the political dynamics inside of Iran. The blame of course lies with those actors inside Iran who are seizing on this opportunity to advance an agenda that is anathema to Iran’s human rights obligations and to the wishes of the Iranian people. At the same time, the U.S. must carefully consider how our actions create opportunities for such elements and reduce our ability, as well as the international community’s ability, to hold Iran accountable to its human rights obligations.”

NIAC Pushes for Broader Sanctions Exemptions for Humanitarian Relief

Washington, DC – In response to Iran’s deadly 2017 earthquake in Kermanshah province, hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens donated to humanitarian relief efforts to rebuild devastated areas. Humanitarian relief efforts have long been exempt from U.S. sanctions law, though in practice there continue to be sanctions-related hurdles both in how American citizens contribute to relief efforts and how humanitarian NGO’s are able to finance relief work on the ground. On numerous occasions, NIAC has raised concerns regarding these complications and pushed the administration to ensure that U.S. sanctions were not standing in the way of urgent relief. In November, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and four other Senators led a letter urging the administration to broaden its sanctions exemptions to facilitate relief.

On March 22, the Department of Treasury solicited feedback on the effectiveness of its current licensing procedures for humanitarian aid to Iran and Sudan. Given the importance of this issue to both the people of Iran and the Iranian-American community, NIAC submitted comments recommending opportunities for improvements, including by encouraging the Treasury Department to authorize a direct banking channel between the U.S. and Iran to finance relief work. This is of critical importance, as we have heard directly from humanitarian organizations regarding the continued difficulty of finding banks willing to transact with them given the perceived risk of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.

We will continue to work to advance our recommendations and ensure that U.S. sanctions do not inadvertently impede humanitarian relief to the people of Iran. You can see the text of NIAC’s comment below:

ATTN: Request for Comments (TSRA)
Office of Foreign Assets Control
United States Department of the Treasury
Freedman’s Bank Building
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20220

Re: NIAC’s Comments Regarding OFAC’s TSRA Licensing Procedures

Dear Sir or Madam:

            On March 22, 2018, the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced that it was “soliciting comments on the effectiveness of OFAC’s licensing procedures for the exportation of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Sudan and Iran.”[1]  OFAC is required to solicit such comments as part of its biennial report to Congress on the operation of the licensing procedures pursuant to § 906 of the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (“TSRA”) and will consider any such comments during the development of its report to Congress.  

By means of this instant submission, the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, submits its comments regarding the effectiveness of OFAC’s licensing procedures for the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran for the time period between October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2016. NIAC submits such comments with the sole intent of encouraging the robust facilitation of humanitarian trade between the United States and Iran in order to benefit the Iranian people, as is the purpose of the underlying TSRA legislation.

  1. Factual Background

            The Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act (“TSRA”), 22 U.S.C. § 7201 et seq., terminates any unilateral agricultural sanction or unilateral medical sanction in effect as of October 28, 2000 against a foreign country or foreign entity and prohibits the President from imposing any such unilateral agricultural sanction or unilateral medical sanction unless a proposed sanction is enacted into law by a joint resolution of the Congress.[2]  However, this provision does not direct the termination of, or prohibit the imposition of, any unilateral agricultural sanction or unilateral medical sanction that prohibits, restricts, or conditions the provision or use of any agricultural commodity, medicine, or medical device that is controlled on the United States Munitions List (“USML”), controlled on any control list established by the Export Administration Act of 1979 (“EAA”) or any successor statute, or used to facilitate the development or production of chemical or biological weapons or weapons of mass destruction.[3]

            Moreover, TSRA provides that the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices to Cuba or to any U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism shall only be made pursuant to one (1) year licenses issued by the U.S. government for contracts entered into during the one (1) year period of the license and shipped within the twelve (12) month period beginning on the date of the signing of the contract.[4]  OFAC applies the licensing procedures required by this latter provision to all exports and re-exports of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism – including Iran and Sudan – that are within the current scope of OFAC’s licensing jurisdiction.[5]

            Iran remains a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism; and, as such, TSRA’s licensing procedures are applicable to the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices to Iran.  These licensing procedures are codified in the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560.  Section 560.530 of the ITSR promulgates a general license and specific licensing procedure for the sale, export, and re-export to Iran of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices, while § 560.532 of the ITSR identifies authorized means of making payment for and financing any such licensed sales, exports, or re-exports of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran. 

  1. NIAC’s Comments Regarding OFAC’s TSRA Licensing Procedures

            The most significant impediment to U.S. person engagement in humanitarian trade with Iran remains the lack of a financial channel to remit payment for humanitarian goods.  Despite licensing the making of payments and financing for sales, exports, and re-exports of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran, OFAC’s licensing procedures have failed to provide U.S. persons with reliable options for receiving payment for the provision of permissible humanitarian items to Iran.  Unable to reliably receive payment for their provision of humanitarian goods to Iran or receive financing to permit the sale of such humanitarian items to Iran, a substantial number of U.S. persons that otherwise would have made use of OFAC’s licensing procedures for humanitarian trade with Iran have elected not to pursue such trade.  This undermines U.S. foreign policy interests vis-à-vis Iran, as well as the purposes underlying TSRA’s legislation, by enacting a de facto embargo on the sale, export, or re-export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran. 

            Pursuant to 31 C.F.R. § 560.532(a), OFAC provides general license authorization for the following payments terms for sales authorized under § 560.530(a)

(1)       Payment of cash in advance;

(2)       Sales on open account, provided that the account receivable may not be transferred to the person extending the credit;

(3)       Financing by third-country financial institutions that are not U.S. persons, entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons and established or maintained outside the United States, Iranian financial institutions, or the Government of Iran.  Such financing may be confirmed or advised by U.S. financial institutions and by financial institutions that are entities owned or controlled by U.S. persons and established or maintained outside the United States; or

(4)       Letter of credit issued by an Iranian financial institution whose property and interests in property are blocked solely pursuant to 31 C.F.R. Part 560. Such letter of credit must be initially advised, confirmed, or otherwise dealt in by a third-country financial institution that is not a U.S. person, an entity owned or controlled by a U.S. person and established or maintained outside the U.S., an Iranian financial institution, or the Government of Iran before it is advised, confirmed, or dealt in by a U.S. financial institution or a financial institution that is an entity owned or controlled by a U.S. person and established or maintained outside the United States. 

Section 560.532(c)(2) further states that “[n]othing in this section authorizes payment terms or trade financing involving debits or credits to Iranian accounts, as defined in § 560.320.” 

            OFAC’s licensing procedures prohibit direct interaction between U.S. and Iranian financial institutions, as evidenced above.  Indeed, OFAC itself has stated that “it is contrary to U.S. foreign policy to allow U.S. financial institutions to maintain active correspondent relationships with Iranian banks.”  As a result, any financing for or receipt of payment from the licensed export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran must involve a third-country financial institution prior to the involvement of a U.S. financial institution, and U.S. person engagement in humanitarian trade involving Iran is contingent on the willingness of third-country financial institutions to issue letters of credit or otherwise process transactions involving the export or re-export of agricultural commodities, medicine, or medical devices from the United States or by a U.S. person, wherever located, to Iran.

            Unfortunately, OFAC has ample precedent at this time demonstrating that third-country financial institutions are generally unwilling to aid U.S. persons seeking to engage in humanitarian trade with Iran authorized pursuant to 31 C.F.R. § 560.530(a).  As a result, U.S. persons have not taken advantage of the permitted trade openings to the extent that would otherwise be possible if there were a reliable, authorized financial channel to remit funds from Iran to the United States.  OFAC has been presented with numerous options to resolve this ongoing problem, including, but not limited to, a direct financial channel between the United States and Iran for licensed dealings between the two countries.  For reasons that remain unclear, OFAC has chosen not to pursue these solutions and has persisted with an authorization that fails to produce the desired outcome.

            It is NIAC’s hope that OFAC will revisit its licensing procedures, including, most especially, its authorization for making payments and financing for the export and re-export of agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices to Iran, and will broaden the scope of current license authorizations to ensure that U.S. persons are able to timely and reliably receive payment and financing for humanitarian trade with Iran.

            III.      Conclusion

            NIAC submits this comment pursuant to OFAC’s March 22, 2018 Request for Comment and hopes that the agency will consider this feedback concerning its TSRA licensing procedures.  It is our considered view that while the agency has made important progress expanding the scope of license authorizations relating to the sale, export, and re-export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Iran – including by broadening the scope of medical devices that are generally authorized for export or re-export to Iran – OFAC should ensure that these license authorizations can be fully utilized by ensuring reliable options exist for making payments for and financing the export of such humanitarian items.  For the reasons explained above, NIAC believes that OFAC’s license authorizations have been under-utilized as a result of the lack of a reliable financial channel to facilitate payments for humanitarian items, and only new solutions – including, for example, a direct financial channel between the United States and Iran – can ease this ongoing problem for U.S. exporters and re-exporters.

[1]Effectiveness of Licensing Procedures for Exportation of Agricultural Commodities, Medicine, and Medical Devices to Sudan and Iran; Comment Request, U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, 83 Fed. Reg.12513, March 22, 2018, available athttps://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-03-22/pdf/2018-05638.pdf.

[2]See 22 U.S.C. § 7201 et seq.

[3]Resource Center: Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) Program, U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, January 13, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/programs/pages/tsra_info.aspx. See also22 U.S.C. § 7203.

[4]22 U.S.C. § 7205.

[5]Resource Center: Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) Program, U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, January 13, 2017, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/programs/pages/tsra_info.aspx.

 

Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument on Muslim Ban

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral argument in the case of Trump v. Hawaii challenging the constitutionality of Presidential Proclamation 9645, otherwise known as Muslim Ban 3.0.

Americans and impacted communities have been fighting back against Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban for over a year, and today is the culmination of our collective efforts. By June of this year, we will learn whether the Supreme Court will allow a Muslim Ban to forever be enshrined into law as a shameful American moral and ethical blunder.

Lawyers on both sides argued their positions today on three key questions presented to the Court: First, whether the President’s travel ban is justiciable. In order for a case to be justiciable, there is a requirement that there be some existing controversy between the parties, that the case be neither premature or a case where the threat of injury has been removed, and that the case does not ask the court to make a determination of a political question. The Supreme Court also heard argument about whether the travel ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Solicitor general, Noel Francisco, arguing on behalf of the government relied heavily on the argument that there was a wide, multi-agency, international review conducted to determine which countries would be designated under the travel ban for failing to meet a baseline of information sharing, and added that the vast majority of Muslim countries were excluded from the ban. Justice Sotomayor pushed back early and asked if the government could represent that no other country that failed to meet the cooperation test was excluded from the travel restrictions. The government responded that Somalia and Iraq were excluded under the “tailored nature” of the ban, also making reference to Chad being taken off of the list of banned countries.

Justice Kagan joined in with a hypothetical of an “out-of-the-box kind of president” posed to the government: suppose a president is elected after a vehemently anti-semitic campaign where the candidate regularly disparaged Jews. The president then asked his staff to issue recommendations for security and what emerged was a travel ban on Israeli’s. The government responded that it was a tough hypothetical and he was not sure that this type of ban would survive rational basis scrutiny because of Israel being a close ally. Justice Kagan went on to say that this hypothetical, bearing a strong resemblance to President Trump, would not be about what is in the president’s heart, rather what the reasonable observer of the president’s conduct would think.

Justice Sotomayor pressed the government hard on the Kagan hypothetical questioning why the actions of the committee charged with finding a way to keep Jews out should not be subject to great suspicion and thorough review given that the committee is responsible to the president and they have been told what the outcome of their responsibility must be. Justice Sotomayor also eluded to the worldwide review report that served as the basis for the Presidential Proclamation and how it has been kept confidential and not been shared with either the litigants or the courts.

Justice Kennedy followed up on the hypothetical asking the government whether challengers, under that scenario, could bring claims under the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses, which the government conceded that they could.

The questioning later shifted to Trump’s campaign statements. The government asserted that the Presidential Proclamation is “very transparent” and that statements made by candidate Trump are “out of bounds” for consideration by the court. The government’s reasoning is that the taking of the oath as president marks a “fundamental transformation” from private citizen to public servant.

Justice Kennedy, widely considered a crucial swing vote, gave the government another hypothetical in which a candidate for mayor repeatedly made hateful statements, and took actions consistent with those statements once taking office. Justice Kennedy asks if those statements are irrelevant. The government again responds arguing that the actions taken by Trump are not a Muslim ban because the travel ban does not apply to the majority of the Muslim world and it was based on neutral criteria.

Justice Breyer shifted the questioning to the case-by-case waiver process and expressed skepticism that the number of individuals that have received waivers is enough to overcome the “real problem” of not having a good waiver process in place.

Neal Katyal argued next on behalf of Hawaii and began by saying that Congress has decided to reject nationality based bans before, opting to use a “carrot and stick” approach to reward countries that comply with requirements by fast-tracking entry. Katyal argued that in fact, the government has only identified a single problem, which is not individualized vetting but rather certain countries not cooperating.

Justice Alito questioned Katyal on the president’s authority under the current federal immigration law to exclude any alien or class of aliens whose presence would be deemed detrimental to the United States. Alito also asked if this Proclamation actually does anything to establish a new perpetual immigration policy for the United States. Katyal responded that this Proclamation is a perpetual, indefinite, open-ended ban with no sunset provision.

Justice Kennedy interjected saying that re-examination by the administration every 180 days in the form of a report submitted to the White House indicates a reassessment, adding “you want the President to say ‘I’m convinced in 6 months we are going to have a safe country?’” Justice Kennedy also quotes statutory language indicating he believes the president has broad latitude and authority in immigration policy.

Testing the outer limits of Katyal’s Establishment Clause theory, Justice Roberts posed another hypothetical: if the president’s advisors recommended an airstrike on Syria, would that violate the Establishment Clause because Syria is a Muslim-majority country and, therefore, anti-Muslim discrimination? Katyal pushed back arguing that this Proclamation was not introduced in the context of a pressing national security emergency like the hypothetical. In addition, Katyal stressed that the Establishment Clause is not at the heart of Hawaii’s position, but rather the flouting of Congressional authority in the context of immigration law. Arguing this point, Katyal said that if there are no limits to the president’s ability to prohibit the entry of any class of aliens, he could potentially ban software engineers from entering so as to protect the technology sector. Katyal argued that generally, the president can supplement congressional policy, but cannot completely supplant it.

Chief Justice Roberts also returned to the political rhetoric of the president from the campaign, promising a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Katyal argued that if President Trump had repudiated his campaign remarks, the Establishment Clause arguments would not exist, but the president has not repudiated; he has doubled down by complaining about his administration drafting a “watered down, politically correct version” to cure legal deficiencies, and retweeted anti-Muslim videos with captions like “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” and “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!’

Justice Alito questioned how a reasonable observer could conclude that this was a Muslim Ban when only 8% of the world’s Muslims are impacted. Katyal rebuts by arguing that the point of focus should not be the 8% of the world’s Muslims, but the fact that 98% of the people affected are Muslim, or what he referred to as “religious gerrymandering.”

It becomes clear towards the end of the hearing that the Supreme Court’s decision may turn on whether it believes that the exceptions to the travel ban are substantive exceptions allowing individuals admission into the U.S., or whether they are merely “window dressing” for a broader categorical ban much different than those imposed by Presidents Carter and Reagan. Along these lines, Katyal directed the court’s attention to the case of a 10-year-old Yemeni girl with cerebral palsy who was denied medical entry into the United States. Justice Sotomayor questioned Mr. Francisco about the girl to which he responded that he was was not familiar with the case

Interestingly, the government revealed that to date, 430 exceptions (or case-by-case waivers) have been granted, though he stopped short of saying how many have been requested or rejected. Mr. Francisco also revealed that consular officers automatically check visa applications to see if they qualify for an exception/waiver. This is in direct contrast to what NIAC has heard from visa applicants who have received form letters and categorical denials of visas without being considered for waivers.

The Supreme Court will likely issue its decision by the end of June. In any event, other components of the broader Muslim Ban policy will remain no matter what the court decides. NIAC will continue to fight back against ‘extreme vetting’ and the sham waiver process in court, and on the Hill. Congress must immediately put an end to its shameful side-stepping and finally fulfill its duty to fully repeal this hateful and bigoted ban.

FDD Scholar: War with Iran ‘Is On’

“The war is on”, declared Michael Ledeen, a “Freedom Scholar” with the anti-Iran deal Foundation for Defense of Democracies, at an event to discuss Iran policy following President Trump’s appointment of John Bolton and nomination of Mike Pompeo. “We’re in the war now. So all these people who keep on saying, ‘well if we sign, or if we don’t re-sign, or if we renew or we don’t renew (the Iran nuclear deal) then war,’ that’s all crazy. The war — we are in the war.”

Speaking on a panel at the Hudson Institute last week, Ledeen asserted his belief that the Iranian people had asked the U.S. for help in toppling the regime. His assertion was challenged by an Iranian American supporter of NIAC in the audience who asked Ledeen why he felt Iranians would want the United States’ help. “All they have to do is look at the neighboring countries and see that every country the United States has tried to change the leadership there, it has created a stateless country,” she said. “It’s like asking me to go to a doctor who all of his patients have died in the hospital, and asking ‘could you please operate on me?’ Why would they want the United States to aid them for any sort of help in the regime change?”

Ledeen’s response was to insult and bully rather than to engage in serious debate. Ledeen stated, “the question from this woman right here is not a question, but a provocation. So I am sorry that you’ve wasted your time coming here today to voice the line of your friends in Tehran…The reason why the Iranian people look to us for help, support, guidance in carrying out a revolution against the regime is because they hate the regime.” Ledeen then rudely told her to “sit there quietly” as the moderator moved on to the next question. The tense exchange showed both the stakes of the Iran debate in the months ahead – that Trump’s supporters think “war is on” with Iran – and that so-called “freedom scholars” will go out of their way to stifle debate on the road to confrontation.

Hawkishness and dismissiveness of alternative views was not limited to Ledeen. Richard Goldberg, another FDD adviser who served as a staffer for the hawkish former Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), predicted that Trump would kill the deal. Goldberg indicated that with negotiations between Trump and the Europeans stalled and Bolton and Pompeo poised to enter the administration, “we have set the stage now for the likely exit of the U.S. from the nuclear deal and the potential for re-imposition of sanctions – at least on the Central Bank on May 12th, and perhaps much more.” Goldberg went on to argue that the reimposition of such sanctions, which he helped to initially pass as a staffer in Congress, would help topple the Iranian regime but avoid harming the Iranian people.

I asked Goldberg how the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran could be designed to be in favor of the Iranian people and avoid causing mass devastation. “With respect to our sanctions policy, the Iranian people are our greatest asset and we do not target the Iranian people, we do not target them, we have no quarrel with them,” Goldberg said. “And so our policy, when it targets the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), when it targets government banks, when it targets the Supreme Leader’s empire, this is about the lifeblood that keeps the Islamic Republic in business of oppressing its people.”

Goldberg’s answer might sound persuasive, yet the reality is that ordinary Iranians themselves are intricately connected to the Iranian economy and banking system – not just the regime. There is absolutely no way a country’s entire banking system can be sanctioned without its people suffering the consequences of the sanctions. We saw this at the height of nuclear sanctions, where the Iranian people suffered from mass unemployment and sanctions while the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) expanded its business empire.

Michael Pregent, a fellow with the Hudson Institute, stated that president Trump “has his Iran team in place,” with John Bolton in as National Security Advisor and Mike Pompeo hoping to be confirmed as Secretary of State. If Pompeo and Bolton share the Hudson panelists’ proclivities, it appears that war could be very difficult to avoid.

“Peace is not the opposite of war,” Ledeen ominously concluded. “Peace is the result of war. Peace happens when a war is fought and one side beats the other.”

NIAC Calls for Investigation into Death of Canadian-Iranian Academic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Trita Parsi
Email: tparsi@niacouncil.org
Phone: (202) 386-6325

The National Iranian American Council released the following statement after Iranian authorities claimed Iranian-Canadian academic and environmentalist, Kavous Seyed-Emami, committed suicide in prison:

“The death of Iranian-Canadian Kavous Seyed-Emami while in custody at Evin Prison on vague charges of espionage is deeply concerning. NIAC calls on Iranian authorities to allow an independent autopsy and uninhibited investigation into the circumstances that led to Seyed-Emami’s death in order to determine whether his human rights were violated and to hold accountable those responsible.

“Iran is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which obligates Iran to ensure that everyone has the right to ‘life, liberty and security of person,’ and that ‘[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ Seyed-Emami does not appear to have posed a security threat nor does the Iranian Judiciary’s explanation of his death add up. Moreover, coming on the heels of at least two other deaths at Evin Prison ruled officially as ‘suicides’ since the outbreak of protests in late December, Seyed-Emami’s death creates the suspicion that Iranian authorities are killing political opponents with impunity. If this is not the case, Iranian authorities should be eager to permit an uninhibited independent investigation.

“Iran is facing major and serious environmental issues which have worried the population at large, and the government needs to take those concerns seriously. Instead, given the treatment of Seyed-Emami and other environmental activists by Iranian authorities, it appears that Iran’s government is intent on securitizing the environmental sphere like so many other parts of Iranian society.

“NIAC once again reiterates its call on the Iranian government to fully abide by its international human rights obligations, including by releasing all prisoners of conscience.”