11 Groups: Keep Channels Open for Food and Medicine to Iran
UPDATE 8/2/2012: While aggressive sanctions were passed, our advocacy efforts were successful in maintaining the humanitarian exception in the sanctions bill. Senator Johnson also issued a landmark statement supporting the humanitarian exception to U.S. sanctions.
FCNL led a coalition letter signed by eleven national organizations, including human rights, religious, and peace groups, which urged Senator Tim Johnson (SD), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, to keep channels open for Iranian civilians to access food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods and services in the pending sanctions legislation. FCNL is opposed to all broad, indiscriminate sanctions against Iran. At the same time, we recognize the vital importance of preserving the humanitarian exemption in this legislation to ensure that Iranians are not deprived of the most basic access to food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods and services.
Re: Keep Channels Open for Iranian Civilians to Access Food, Medicine, and other Humanitarian Goods and Services
July 27, 2012
Dear Chairman Tim Johnson,
We strongly urge you to, at a minimum, preserve channels for financial transactions to Iran for food, medicine, and other humanitarian purposes in H.R. 1905, the Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Human Rights Act of 2012 (ISAHRA).
We are troubled by reports that efforts are underway in the conference negotiations to quarantine the Iranian financial system wholesale, without an exemption for humanitarian transactions. If Congress were to shut down the few remaining channels that exist for humanitarian transactions to Iran, it would create a catastrophe for millions of Iranians who depend on access to critical lifesaving medicines which are only available in the international market.
In particular, we urge you to oppose the inclusion of measures supported by Senator Mark Kirk and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen which would sanction all Iranian financial institutions, and have devastating effects on humanitarian trade, noncommercial family remittances, and other transactions that have been explicitly authorized by the U.S. government.
Your long-standing support for humanitarian transactions is commendable. We appreciate your May 21 remarks, in which you noted that "it is not and has not been the intent of U.S. policy to harm the Iranian people," and that "misinterpretation of U.S. law by foreign financial institutions should no longer deny the people of Iran the benefit of OFAC-approved humanitarian trade."
However, if Congress prohibited every foreign bank from conducting any transaction with any Iranian bank then the U.S. would be denying Iranians access to humanitarian necessities. The U.S. Treasury Department's licenses for life-saving cancer treatment would be of no value to an Iranian patient who cannot access the licensed medication due to U.S. sanctions against financial institutions that would facilitate payments in Iran for that medication.
We are opposed to ISAHRA and other broad, indiscriminate sanctions legislation, which has contributed to the dangerous escalation of U.S.-Iranian tensions, and has already caused grave suffering for Iranian civilians. As top military leaders and other national security experts have long pointed out, robust, sustained diplomacy is the single most effective way to prevent a disastrous war and a nuclear-armed Iran. For diplomacy to be effective, it is imperative that the U.S. government put sanctions relief on the table in exchange for serious, verifiable Iranian concessions to curb its nuclear program.
At the same time, we recognize the importance of the humanitarian exemption preserved in this legislation, which has been touted by the U.S. businesses community and many humanitarian organizations, and strongly urge you to reject the mounting pressure to further erode the humanitarian exemption.
We thank you for your consideration and hope that you will ensure that ISAHRA does not prohibit Iranian civilians from accessing food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods and services.
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Center for Interfaith Engagement, Eastern Mennonite University
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Just Foreign Policy
National Iranian American Council
New Internationalism Project, Institute for Policy Studies
Progressive Democrats of America
Project on Middle East Democracy
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society