The Boston Globe has reported that the U.S. State Department has discontinued its funding of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC). Over the years, the group has received $3 million in grant money from the State Department, but its recent request for a two-year, $2.7 million grant was denied.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a division of the State Department, is tasked with deciding grant requests for non-governmental groups that work on influencing the Iranian government. USAID did not elaborate on the decision to turn down IHRDC’s funding request.
IHRDC was currently working on documenting human rights abuses that occurred after the disputed Iranian election. It has also reported on Iran’s assassination of dissidents and the 1988 killings of political prisoners. Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) said it was “disturbing” that IHRDC’s grant application was denied.
Roya Boroumand, a leading opponent of capital punishment in Iran, commented on the government’s decision, saying,

“If the rationale is that we are going to stop funding human rights-related work in Iran because we don’t want to provoke the government, it is absolutely the wrong message to send,’’ she said. “That means that we don’t really believe in human rights, that the American government just looks into it when it is convenient.”

USAID’s decision to cut funding is certainly a blow to the IHRDC and its important and necessary work. The United States, however, has to tread extremely carefully when supporting human rights advocacy in Iran, given the history of US involvement there.  Receiving government money opens groups like the IHRDC to accusations of being pawns of the U.S. government, and simply pushing an American agenda.
This could ultimately enable repressive governments like the Iranian regime to characterize reports about their human rights abuses as nothing more than American imperialist propaganda. Groups like the IHRDC should be funded solely by private donations and other non-governmental resources.
I, for one, hope the IHRDC will use the recent State Department decision as a clarion call for a massive fundraising push among private donors.  Just imagine: the State Department cuts off $2.7 million in funding, so the IHRDC’s goal should be to exceed that figure in private donations.
Doing so would help take the wind out of arguments’ that attack the reputation of groups advocating for human rights, and in the long term would actually help further the goals of the IHRDC and similar organizations.
Update: It should also be noted that Iranian human rights activists and the leaders of Iranian civil society have universally opposed US Government funding for human rights advocacy in Iran.  The people whose views matter most–those who are on the front lines of the fight for human rights in Iran–explicitly called for the State Department to cut off its funding.

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