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June 2, 2008

Iranian NGOs to U.S.: “Don’t Send us Money.”

Washington D.C.- Massachusetts Representative Bill Delahunt ended the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight hearing by echoing words he heard from Iranian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in response to increased American pro-democracy funding: “We hear from Iran, for example, ‘don’t send us money, it stigmatizes us.'”

The May 22 subcommittee hearing, entitled “City on the Hill or Just Another Country? The United States and the Promotion of Human Rights and Democracy,” was part of a series of hearings aimed at restoring the international poise of the United States in the face of the Iraq War, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and other concerns. Delahunt, in his opening statement, referred to the origins of the term “City on a Hill,” as first coined by 17th Century Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop. In reference to the current state of America, Delahunt added, “I want to be very clear; I do believe the United States is still the city on a hill.”

According to the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), the Fiscal Year 2008 Iran democracy fund, for which Congress appropriated $60 million dollars (President Bush had called for $75 million) is set to be eclipsed by another $65 million requested for Fiscal Year 2009. The POMED report refers to the funding as “a source for great controversy,” due to accusations that it allows the Iranian regime to “cast all democracy activists as foreign agents in its efforts to crack down on dissent.”

These sentiments resonated with the subcommittee and with witness Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. When asked by Representative Delahunt if the funds in Iran provided a “mixed blessing, overall net plus, or a negative” for Iranian NGOs, Roth remarked that the Persian radio services and any free messages “not censored by the Ayatollah” are “valuable,” but are counteracted by politically motivated gestures by the Bush Administration. He criticized the use of “great fanfare” and announcements that imply that “we (America) are sending x amount of dollars into Iran to help NGOs overthrow the government.”

Roth continued by suggesting a more externally focused campaign away from the current methods that have aroused suspicion and caused persecution of American funded organizations by the Iranian government. He closed by calling current American tactics “more about politics than helping people in Iran… They (Iranian NGOs) don’t want it (publicized American help), its hurting them, there are smarter ways to help promote democracy and human rights in that country.”

The full subcommittee video is available here.




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