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Letter to Representatives Lowey and Wolf on US foreign operations funding

The Honorable Nita M. Lowey
US House of Representatives
2329 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3218

The Honorable Frank R. Wolf
US House of Representatives
241 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-4610

Via Facsimile

Dear Representatives Lowey and Wolf:

We are writing to share our views on several critical human rights issues that may arise as House and Senate conferees consider the FY 2008 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues in greater detail.

Pakistan

In light of General Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule, we urge you to suspend all non-humanitarian assistance to the government of Pakistan until its government returns to constitutional rule, and ends its crackdown on the judiciary, media, human rights activists and political opponents. In addition, we urge you to consider shifting a portion of suspended assistance to programs that directly benefit the Pakistani people, such as those that promote secular public education. Such a step would signal that the United States is not abandoning Pakistan, but shifting its strategy from support for one man to support for a country, its democratic institutions and its people.

The Bush administration has issued several strong statements opposing Gen. Musharraf’s latest coup. But it has taken no action affecting the hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance the Pakistani military receives each year from the United States – assistance that has helped the military consolidate its political and economic stranglehold over Pakistan without persuading it to accept civilian rule. A failure to suspend assistance would strengthen the Pakistani military’s confidence that it can ride out the storm, and reinforce perceptions – already strong in Pakistan – that the United States can be always defied because it needs Pakistani cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

The US interest in promoting the rule of law in Pakistan does not need to be “balanced” against its interest in fighting terrorism. On the contrary – until Pakistan has a legitimate government that respects human rights and commands the support of its people, it is unlikely to be a good counterterrorism partner no matter how much money the United States gives it. A leader preoccupied with fighting the moderate majority of Pakistanis who want democracy will not mobilize Pakistan against its extremist minority. Indeed, under Musharraf’s rule, the Taliban and other extremist groups have grown stronger. Those most inclined to support a moderate future for Pakistan – judges, lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists – have been persecuted. As US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson said to Musharraf: "It would be hard to imagine a group less threatening to the security of Pakistan and more in accord with the democratic values you have espoused” than those imprisoned in the last few days.

Continued assistance to the Musharraf government will only discredit the United States and its counterterrorism struggle in the eyes of most Pakistanis. Assistance should align the United States with the people of Pakistan, not the illegitimate government that is persecuting them.

Iran

Human Rights Watch has documented a significant spike in repressive measures by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed the presidency in 2005. Facing increasing pressure from the United Nations and the United States over its nuclear program, significant instability in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and worsening economic conditions at home, Iran’s government has resorted to increasingly brutal means to stifle internal opposition. Against this backdrop, the Bush administration has requested another $75 million earmarked for “democracy propagation” in Iran. A significant portion of this sum is intended to directly fund pro-democracy groups in Iran (the rest of the sum will continue to finance expanded Persian broadcasts by the Voice of America).

We strongly support US government assistance to civil society activists in many countries around the world. Iran's leading human rights activists, however, have said that this program is ineffective and counterproductive – among them, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, noted dissident Akbar Ganji, human rights defender Emad Baghi (currently in prison in Tehran) and the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Prof. Haleh Esfandiari, who only recently emerged from eight months of detention in Iran. Iranian activists believe they would be persecuted with or without the US democracy program. But they still believe the program weakens their cause by allowing the Iranian government to claim, falsely, that all government critics are agents of the West.

We believe that there are better ways to help Iran’s civil society. We seek your assistance to see that any funds designated for Iran are spent on measures that increase direct cultural, social, scientific and political contact between Iranians and the outside world, in particular by helping them to circumvent their government’s censorship and monitoring of the Internet. As you know, repressive governments around the world, including in Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, have been stepping up their efforts to control what their people can see and communicate on the internet. New technologies are being developed to enable people – including political activists – to communicate securely on the internet, and Iranians are among the chief users of these technologies. But clearly, a technological arms race is underway between those, like the Ahmadinejad government, who would punish free expression online and those who wish to preserve it.

The House version of the Foreign Operations bill already urges support for grants for the development, licensing, expansion and deployment of technologies that allow free and secure internet use in repressive countries. We hope that the Congress will dedicate a substantial portion of the Iran democracy funds to such a program, which would clearly benefit and be welcomed by Iranian civil society activists and their counterparts throughout the world. The remaining funds should be made available for activities that promote the free flow of information between Iran and the outside world, to facilitate the engagement of Iranians with the global community through scholarly and cultural exchanges, and to promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Iran, provided that the Department of State takes into account the views of Iranian civil society regarding the expenditure of funds for that purpose.

Sri Lanka

Since the collapse of the ceasefire between the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government in mid-2006 and the resumption of major military operations, civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting. More than 1,000 have reportedly “disappeared.” Several hundred thousand civilians have been displaced by the fighting. Human Rights Watch has long documented serious abuses by the LTTE, including attacks against civilians, targeted killings of perceived political opponents, and the use of child soldiers. In the past 18 months, there has also been a significant jump in abuses by government forces, such as indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial executions, and forced disappearances. In addition, there is evidence that Sri Lankan government forces have stood by while pro-government armed groups have carried out abuses, including forcibly recruiting children into their forces. Members of the government security forces have long enjoyed impunity from prosecution; despite the creation of various new governmental bodies, there is little evidence that the Sri Lankan government is bringing the perpetrators of serious abuses to justice.

For these reasons, the Senate has proposed conditions restricting the sale and transfer of arms to Sri Lanka until the Sri Lankan government improves its human rights record and facilitates the creation of a United Nations human rights monitoring mission to help protect civilians threatened by the island’s escalating civil war. Human Rights Watch strongly endorses these conditions and believes that their implementation will help protect thousands of civilians and allow Sri Lankan civil society to operate more freely. It is important to note that the Department of State has publicly supported a strong UN monitoring mission and urged Sri Lanka to meet the conditions in the Senate bill. We look forward to your support for this measure.

Philippines

After decades of armed conflict between the government and the communist New People’s Army (NPA), unlawful killings appeared to shift into higher gear in February 2006, after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a new strategy of an “all-out war” to eliminate the NPA. Human Rights Watch has documented the involvement of government security forces in the murder or “disappearance” of members of leftist political parties and NGOs, journalists, outspoken clergy, anti-mining activists, and agricultural reform activists. To date there have been no successful prosecutions of any member of the armed forces implicated in recent extrajudicial killings. The NPA also continues to commit human rights abuses, including kidnapping and unlawful killings. But such abuses by insurgents do not justify abuses by the military or the government.

Given the United States’ significant influence with the government of the Philippines, we believe the United States can and should do more to address this human rights crisis. We urge the Congress to make Foreign Military Financing to the Philippines contingent on a certification from the State Department that the government of Philippines is taking effective steps to bring to justice members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police, against whom there is credible evidence of human rights violations, especially political killings.

Uzbekistan

On May 13, 2005, Uzbek government forces killed hundreds of unarmed protestors in the city of Andijan. No one has yet been held accountable for this massacre. Instead, Uzbek authorities have launched an unrelenting campaign to silence and imprison critics of the government. When the US government criticized this crackdown, Uzbekistan refused to renew the lease on a base the US military was using to support operations in Afghanistan. The United States lost the close relationship it had enjoyed with Uzbekistan, but has done little to promote changes in the country that would allow the renewal of close ties.

The Senate has approved language in the Foreign Operations bill that would impose targeted financial sanctions against Uzbek leaders responsible for the violence. We strongly support this provision. It would reinforce targeted sanctions already imposed against Uzbekistan by the European Union. It will ensure that Uzbek leaders pay a personal price for their brutal crackdown on peaceful dissent, and send a strong message that renewed good relations with the United States depend on political reform.

Reproductive Health

We appreciate your support for the more inclusive provisions included in the Senate version of the Global Democracy Promotion Act. We wish to enlist your support for ensuring that the Foreign Operations bill includes a full exemption to the Mexico City Policy. We believe that the criminalization of abortion threatens the health and lives of women. Where abortion is illegal, women who are unable to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are driven to desperate measures, sometimes attempting to abort by inserting knitting needles or other sharp objects into their uterus, with a high possibility of severe infections or hemorrhaging as a result. Clandestine abortion clinics escape government regulation and oversight, and often operate with little regard for women’s health and lives. In addition, women who fear criminal proceedings may not seek necessary and lifesaving post-abortion care. Current US aid guidelines continue to de-fund even organizations that merely want an open democratic debate on these issues.

We were disappointed that both the House and Senate continued to include a presidential waiver for the so-called abstinence-until-marriage earmark on funding for HIV/AIDS prevention instead of eliminating this earmark altogether. We feel that the ABC approach to AIDS prevention (abstain, be faithful in marriage, use condoms) advocates behavioral changes that fail to address women’s and girls’ social reality. Many cannot “abstain” from being brutally raped; cannot stop their husband’s infidelity; and lack the negotiating power within their relationships to insist on condom use. Congressionally mandated reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Institute of Medicine have found that the Global AIDS Act provision earmarking at least 33 percent of PEPFAR prevention funds for programs that advocate sexual abstinence-until-marriage is undermining global efforts to prevent HIV.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Malinowski
Washington Advocacy Director

CC: Members of the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs

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