June 21, 2010

Draft Iran Sanctions Conference Report

House and Senate conference co-chairs Rep. Howard Berman and Sen. Chris Dodd announced today they have formed an agreement on new Iran sanctions legislation, which they are circulating to other members of the conference committee today.
niacINsight has obtained a copy of the legislation, which is expected to be approved formally by the Congress and signed into law by the President in the coming days.

NIAC Deeply Concerned by Congressional Sanctions Agreement
For Immediate Release

Contact: Phil Elwood
Phone: 202-423-7957
Email: [email protected]

The National Iranian American Council is deeply concerned by the Conference Agreement announced for H.R. 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act. While the Agreement contains some positive measures called for by NIAC to punish Iranian human rights abusers and ease restrictions preventing Iranians from accessing the Internet, these measures do not negate the fact that the bill imposes further suffering upon the people of Iran at their greatest moment of need and perpetuates a failed US sanctions policy that has hindered the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.
“Congress had an opportunity to stand with the Iranian people by recalibrating US sanctions to target Iran’s government and ease pressures on innocent Iranians,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Policy Director. “Unfortunately, Congress missed that opportunity and is moving forward with another sanctions measure that imposes pain indiscriminately, making no distinction between the people and the government of Iran.”
H.R. 2194 imposes broad “crippling” sanctions targeting Iran’s economy. Congressional leaders have acknowledged that such measures will punish innocent Iranians.
NIAC has consistently urged that any Iran legislation passed by Congress take into account the massive protests and burgeoning democracy movement in Iran that became clear to the world following the disputed June 12, 2009 elections. NIAC advocated for Congress not to send the President legislation that would impose broad sanctions that would undermine and punish the Iranian people.
Instead, NIAC called for Congress to impose punitive measures against human rights abusers and companies that aid Iranian government repression while simultaneously easing pressure on innocent Iranians.
NIAC urged that the final Conference Agreement incorporate all three provisions of the Stand With the Iranian People Act (H.R.4303), including imposing travel restrictions on Iranian human rights abusers, barring federal contracts for companies that provide Iran’s government with repressive technology, and lifting the ban that prevents humanitarian relief and human rights organizations from working in Iran.
The Conference Agreement does include these first two punitive provisions, which NIAC strongly supports. But the Agreement fails to lift restrictions preventing US NGOs from working to promote human rights and humanitarian relief in Iran, instead only lifting restrictions for NGOs working on “promoting democracy.” It is unfortunate that Congress is willing to ease restrictions to promote democracy but not to promote human rights or provide humanitarian relief.
The Agreement acknowledges through non-binding language that “it is in the national interest of the United States” to allow American humanitarian and human right NGOs to work in Iran and to state that the US should ensure American NGOs are not “unnecessarily hindered from working in Iran to provide humanitarian, human rights, and people-to-people assistance” to the Iranian people. This is positive language, but unfortunately it does not carry the force of law and is therefore insufficient.
Additionally, NIAC called for the Conference Agreement to include the Iranian Digital Empowerment Act (H.R.4301) to lift all restrictions that prevent Iranians from accessing software to bypass Internet filters and government surveillance. While NIAC is pleased that the Conference Agreement endorses a March 2010 Administration decision to allow certain communication software to be exported to Iranians, and that it includes exceptions from sanctions for certain hardware used to connect to the Internet, the Conference Agreement does not lift restrictions for all software, such as anti-filtering software, and therefore keeps in place restrictions that prevent Iranians from accessing and communicating the Internet freely. Congress should have ensured that all software and hardware that enables Iranians to communicate freely via the Internet be unrestricted.
“There are a number of unintended consequences under existing US sanctions that isolate the Iranian people and undermine their democratic aspirations,” said Abdi. “By addressing those mistakes and lifting restrictions on humanitarian NGOs and Internet anti-filtering software, Congress could have done something positive to support Iranians, support human rights, and ensure we do not stand in the way of the Iranian people. Unfortunately Congress declined to take this opportunity.”

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