Washington, DC – The House of Representatives’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing yesterday to discuss the human rights situation in Iran and what measures US policymakers can take to support the rights of the Iranian people. NIAC President Trita Parsi testified before the commission, urging lawmakers to place a greater emphasis on the human rights issue in dealing with Iran.
All members of the commission stressed the importance of bringing greater international attention to the repression going on in Iran since the June election last year, and the panel of expert witnesses offered their recommendations for practical measures the US Government can take to press the issue. Among these recommendations, lawmakers and witnesses agreed on the need to correct certain US policies that have unintentionally imposed burdens on the Iranian people, rather than the government.
“What we want is to support what the Iranian people want for themselves,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the co-chair of the commission. “Adjusting sanctions is a good suggestion; if US citizens want to send some money to support their relatives in Iran or to support a particular cause there, then we should allow them to do so,” he said.
NIAC President Trita Parsi pointed out that current US sanctions actually prohibit American citizens from donating money to human rights organizations in Iran. Changing this, according to many in the hearing, would be a positive step.
Increasing ties between American and Iranian civil society leaders is “extraordinarily important,” according to Leonard Leo, the Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, who also testified before the hearing. “American NGOs can help stand up this very important movement in Iran.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a commission member, agreed with many of the witnesses on the importance of international action, such as calling for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council to investigate Iranian abuses. Additionally, there was unanimous agreement that the United States cannot be complicit in the repression going on in Iran, particularly in silencing the Iranian people’s right to peaceful protest.
“There is an inherent contradiction,” according to Parsi, “when US policies don’t allow a person to send money to the family of Neda Agha Soltan, but Nokia-Siemens can sell advanced censorship and surveillance technology to the government and be rewarded with US government contracts.”