There’s shock in the foreign policy community as the largest watchdog of Iranian human rights violations has just had its federal funding request denied and as a consequence must shut down in May. The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center has been issuing reports since 2004 on forced confessions of journalists, the 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners and a campaign to assassinate Iranian dissidents worldwide. They were preparing to investigate reports of abuse in the wake of the Iranian presidential election protests when they got the news, surprising the group’s executive director, Rene Redman, who said, “If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it. I was surprised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.”
The State Department, which moved funding responsibilities to the lower profile office of the US Agency for International Development, has said funding priorities haven’t changed and that it’s still committed to monitoring Iranian human rights violations. But at least three other watchdog groups have also lost funding according to Roya Bourmond, who also had this to say:
“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. That means that we don’t really believe in human rights, that the American government just looks into it when it is convenient.’’
It’s a stinging criticism that also unfortunately appears to be spot on. There are a few other people who aren’t very happy about it:
“The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center is at the forefront of pioneering and vitally important work,’’ said Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, in a statement yesterday. “It is disturbing that the State Department would cut off funding at precisely the moment when these brave investigations are needed most.’’
Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank, said, “It is a shock that they did not get funding.’’ A reason, he asserted, may be that “the Obama administration is so focused on engaging Iran that they don’t want this information to get in the way.’’
President Obama said he would seek a more engaging and non-confrontational approach when it came to Iran and its nuclear program. But there is a vast difference between being non-confrontational and willfully turning a blind eye to the brazen and egregious Iranian oppression that occurs on a daily basis for the sake of scoring a few more diplomatic points with a rogue state and cheap political points at home. The cutoff of funding for the Iranian watchdog groups is troubling and “breathtaking” in the words of Ed Morrisey, and signals a massive retreat in the struggle for basic human decency. Can an administration that prides itself on social justice really defend this? I think not.