Nonprofits Object to Treasury's Broad Allegations of Ties to Terrorism

OMB Watch, Grantmakers Without Borders, the American Civil Liberties Union and several other charitable organizations sent a letter June 8 to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson objecting to the Department of the Treasury's continued broad allegations of ties between the nonprofit sector and criminal activity associated with terrorism.  The charities' letter pointed out that Treasury's allegations are based on overbroad and unsubstantiated statements, not hard facts.  The nonprofit sector as a whole has not and does not support criminal activity associated with terrorism.  In fact, the sector works tirelessly on the ground in war zones and countries plagued by violence, combating poverty, oppression and other root causes of terrorism.

The letter also noted that the government's claims inflict real, ongoing harm on nonprofit organizations, causing a loss of public confidence in the charitable sector as a whole.

The groups urged Paulson to make amends and support the sector.  "We call on you to issue a statement recognizing the importance of U.S. charities, both at home and abroad," the groups requested in the letter.

The full text of the letter and a detailed fact sheet on the issue are available.


Update from Lebanon

We just received this update from Najdeh, a grantee group working to improve the lives of Palestinian refugee women living in Lebanon's refugee camps. Nahr El Bared camp has been the site of recent fighting between the Lebanese Army and Fath-Islam. This month, the Global Fund gave an emergency grant to Najdeh to help support their work under the current difficult and dangerous conditions.

From Najdeh:

In the 20th of May 2007, clashes broke up between the Lebanese Army and Fath-Islam group. Army tanks shelled Nahr El Bared camp after militants from Fatah al-Islam took control of army posts at the camp's entrance slaughtering four army soldiers. The camp's electricity, phone lines and water were cut off.

The clashes continued with few days of unannounced ceasefire that allowed most of the camp'snajdeh inhabitants to be evacuated. The Lebanese Army is still forcing a strict blockade on the camp to restrict the movement of Fath-Islam combatants. Civilians are only allowed to exit the camp, no civilians are allowed to enter however, the Lebanese Army is giving permits to United Nations Relief and Works Agency, International Committee of the Red Cross, Palestinian Red Crescent Society and other NGOs to enter the camp to provide aid to the remaining civilians inside.

UNRWA, PRCS, ICRC and Najdeh have managed to enter a number of items to aid the trapped civilians inside the camp. These items mainly included bread, water, food kits, and medicines, cleaning materials, children's and infants' diapers. ICRC and the camp's popular committee have set up meeting points to which humanitarian aid will be delivered to. Yet, it has been reported that the popular committee inside the camp is facing difficulties in distributing the received items due to the continuous fighting.

PRCS and the Lebanese Red Cross continue to use their ambulances to evacuate as much wounded, disable, sick from the camp yet with extreme difficulties.

A number of diseases have spread throughout the camp mainly scabies and lice due to lack of water and spread of insects and rats due to lack of hygiene, uncollected garbage and spread of corps.

As for the consequences of the clash, it will be as followings:

  1. Almost all the camp, more than 80% of NBC, including Najdeh centers were completely destroyed.
  2. The recovery duration: re-build the camp, and the temporary settlement of the IDPs, that in case the construction started directly after the ceasefire, will need one year.
  3. Its not obvious or clear if the reconstruction will includes the edges of the camp. The previous experiences with such matter of destroyed camps and gatherings was bad since the government put restrictions on re-building the camps and gatherings, and didn't allowed to re build the edges of the camps and the gatherings. In addition, nobody was in charge to rebuild everything. As for the previous experience too, UNRWA took onto its responsibility to rebuild the whole infrastructure of the camps, rebuilding for the hardship families and compensate with limited amount for others.
  4. Its to be noted that the construction material are not allowed to enter NBC before the current situation. This procedure will be continued with more restrictions in the future, as well as the Lebanese check points at the entrances of the camp.
  5. The recovery period will be divided to two phases / levels; one on the reconstruction and rebuilding the camp, two on settling temporary the IDPs.
  6. The psychosocial intervention and activities should be run simultaneously with other recovery activities and for both children and women.
  7. It was obvious that the Lebanese army took random procedures and restrictions against Palestinians, mainly men, without respect to the humanitarian workers too. Three of Association Najdeh staff were arrested during the previous ten days by the Lebanese army. Two out of them were arrested during their trip to Baddawi camp, the third was arrested when he was coming back to his home in Tripoli from Baddawi (he is the photograph and montage instructor in Baddawi and working now in the emergency project there).
  8. The need assessment for the IDPs in Baddawi camp shows the following indicators and needs:
    • Mattresses: 3709
    • Food rations: 3441
    • Cloths: 4291
    • Medicine: 3891
    • Milk and child diaper: 1141
    • Diaper for elder people: 25
    • Kitchen kits: 445
    • Women Kit: 4500

The need assessment also showed that out of the 4727 IDP families, there are 1698 considered hardship families (according to UNRWA criteria), 417 widowed, 64 divorced, and 156 separated women. This indicates that the rate of the families headed by women and the bread winner among those reaches to 13%.

The Chance to be Free

India is enjoying widespread recognition for its impressive economic growth rates, its thousands of computer engineers, and hundreds of new billionaires. Yet, this country with a rich history and extraordinary potential is also home to the worst forms of poverty and devastating manifestations of human intolerance and cruelty. To be born a girl into an Indian family is to have the decks heavily stacked against you.

India is one of the few countries where males significantly outnumber females, an imbalance that has increased over time. The birth of a girl is viewed as a misfortune, and son-preference leads to a frightening pattern of neglect and active discrimination. Ironically, the increased prosperity of the Indian middle class has only deepened the trend as ultrasound technology is used to perform sex-selective abortions. The deaths of young girls in India exceed those of young boys by over 300,000 each year, and every sixth infant death results specifically from gender discrimination. Of the 15 million girls born in India each year, nearly 25 percent will not live to see their 15th birthday.

If a girl does survive her childhood, the low status she holds in her family and in society makes her among those most vulnerable to abuse. Journalist Lisa Ling's investigation into the lives of young girls sold into domestic servitude and sexual slavery is a searing exposé of India's harsh reality.

As someone who grew up in India with educated middle class parents, I know how glaring contradictions exist side-by-side in modern India. While the daughters of the newly prosperous wear designer jeans, and prepare to compete for admissions into Harvard and Yale, many of them have grown up in homes where girls spend their entire lives in service to the affluent. These girls are either sold by their parents or choose to flee the desperate poverty of their villages for the economic opportunities of large cities. For many girls the chance to eat twice a day, wear better clothes, and work to support themselves and their families, comes at a brutally high price.

Yet in the midst of this despair, local community-based organizations, often led by women who were once victims themselves, are shining a powerful ray of hope and possibility. At the Global Fund for Women, we have witnessed young women and girls stand up for their own rights, demanding a voice in critical decisions that affect their lives. Since 1987 the Global Fund has granted more than $3 million to hundreds of organizations working to end trafficking in 71 countries around the world.

Our grants to associations of domestic workers in Southern India help young girls like those interviewed in "Slave Girls of India" get their first chance at an education and provide free legal assistance.

In Nepal, where more than 100,000 young girls have been sold into India, I recently attended a historic gathering of over 500 young women and girls - all of them former victims of trafficking. The organizing group, Shakti Samukta, used a grant from the Global Fund to build a network among former victims to raise awareness about the conditions that force their families to sell their daughters. At the meeting in Kathmandu, the former sex slaves succeeded in getting senior ministers, law enforcement officials, and the media to attend their forum.

They have found their voice and seized their chance to be free. Can they count on you and me to stand with them?

Kavita N. Ramdas is the President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women.


Grantmakers Without Borders

Grantmakers Without Borders ("Gw/oB"), a philanthropic network of 130 organizations all dedicated to providing humanitarian support to the Global South, strongly urges the Department of the Treasury to withdraw the "U.S. Department of the Treasury Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines: Voluntary Best Practices for U.S.-Based Charities" ("Guidelines") released in the October 31, 2006 Federal Register. Despite the Department of the Treasury's repeated efforts to improve the Guidelines (this 2006 release marks the third version of the Guidelines), many within the philanthropic sector find the Guidelines unrealistic and counterproductive. In fact, Gw/oB's letter to the Department of the Treasury is in addition to a similar letter sent by a coalition of 40 charitable sector organizations, lead by the Council on Foundations.

The Guidelines were released to assist charities in preventing the diversion of charitable funds to terrorism. Instead, "[the Guidelines] often chill the valuable work of international grantmakers, including Gw/oB's member organizations. Thus, philanthropic money that funds, for example, farming projects or support for tsunami victims is delayed or discontinued. This chilling effect is especially troubling since the Department of the Treasury has failed to provide real, non-anecdotal evidence that charitable funds are unintentionally being diverted for terrorist purposes."

Gw/oB's members fund international projects of hope and opportunity in vulnerable communities. Dedicated to the eradication of poverty and the promotion of social justice, Gw/oB's member organizations often support grantees that act as positive counter-points to terrorist influences. However, the suggested practices within the Guidelines would force Gw/oB's members to divert their limited financial and personnel resources from proven best practices in due diligence and instead engage in unproductive information gathering that ultimately distracts from their philanthropic mission. At the end of the day, the Guidelines ultimately fail to further their stated purpose, "to assist charities that attempt in good faith to protect themselves from terrorist abuse" and should be withdrawn.

The Global Fund for Women is a member of Grantmakers Without Borders.


Nobel Women's Initiative

The first day of the Nobel Women's Initiative first international conference "Women Redefining Peace: The Middle East and Beyond" has been an inspiring and invigorating meeting. Activists from all over the world engaged in discussions, listened to each other, and focused on possible actions of the future. Diverse, yet committed, to a ‘different world' free from violence, discrimination, and poverty women re-stated the creative efforts of women to promote peace and work for justice in the various communities.  The day started with welcoming remarks from our host Nobel Laureate, Betty Williams stressing that what was once impossible peace in Ireland is today a reality. Betty also read a letter from Ireland's president Mary McAleese. Betty also indicated that even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been on house arrest in Burma for the past ten years, is not able to be with us at the meeting, the Laureates created a space for her placing her picture and flowers to symbolize her participation in the conference and as a continuous reminder of her struggle. Laureate Jody Williams then reiterated the goals and vision of the Nobel Women's Initiative indicating that the hope is to organize an international conference every two years. Jody emphasized that we are often dismissed politically and as activists because we are women. We are often relegated to talking only about ‘women's issues' as if women's issues is a narrow domain that only concerns women and no the whole society and as if peace, justice, war, and economics are not women's issues.

After an introduction into the "Gender Dynamics of Violence and Conflicts" by Valentine Moghadam that attempted to lay out the overarching picture in a global context, the rest of the day was structured around three panel presentations followed by conversations as well as an exercise of small group discussions involving the concept and practice of power, in its visible, hidden and invisible forms.  

The first panel presentation on "Women's Rights Violations in the Middle East: A Closer Look," featured Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Farida Shaheed, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, and Nayereh Tohidi. The panelists discussed in more details the problematic aspects of violence in the various domains addressing issues of political linkages, violence in its various forms, fundamentalism, identity politics, and silencing and policing mechanism.

The Panel titled "Lessons from Darfur" featured Jody Williams reporting on her recent trip to Darfur and the various initiatives of divestment and accountability that have been taking place, and a comment from Abeer Mahmoud on the difficulties facing women in Darfur. In addition, Nan Lao Lian Won from Burma discussed targeted violence, including rape that the Burmese regime has inflicted on women in times of war and in times of peace and the efforts of women's organizations to counteract that. This panel made clear that the use of women's bodies as weapons of war between men has occurred in many places and the links need to be uncovered and discussed. It also unveiled the fact that divestment from Chinese entities that are supporting the military and gang actions in Darfur should also focus on the same efforts taking place in Burma.

The last panel on "Power and Its Impact" featured Antonia Juhasz, Yanar Mohammad, and myself discussing the varying ways in which US corporations, governments, and the funding and international aid agencies have contributed to increasing the conflicts in the region and dramatically negatively impacting women's rights. A challenge was laid out to prevent the privatization of Iraqi oil and for the support of the right of Iraqi people to self-determination. In addition, an important analysis of the role of oil companies and the private corporations of the US and multi-nationally in the current war and continued conflicts in the region. A negative assessment of the role of donor agencies aligned with US foreign policy interests and imperial project was also presented.

The day ended with inspiring comments from Laureates Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Wangari Maathai. They both emphasized the need to act and speak up and the important role that women have played in promoting non-violent resistance, putting into focus issues of self-determination, justice, equitable distribution, just governance, and sustainability.

Zeina Zataari is the Global Fund's Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa.
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