• 8 October 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Human Rights in Iran, Uncategorized

State Department Cuts IHRDC Funding

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.

Posted By Matt Sugrue

    2 Responses to “State Department Cuts IHRDC Funding”

  1. Nick says:

    You might want to mention that Roya Boroumand is also on IHRDC’s board of directors (http://www.iranhrdc.org/httpdocs/English/boardmembers.htm).

  2. Someone says:

    Thanks for your analysis. It puts things into perspective. I hope the diaspora community will face up to its responsibility and help foot the bill for this research to continue.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Sign the Petition


7,349 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



Share this with your friends: