Accountability via observation

June 21, 2003

Dear Sen. Miller,

I've just read the current text of SJ Res 3, A joint resolution expressing the sense of Congress with respect to human rights in Central Asia. I'm happy to discover you are a co-sponsor of this resolution, particularly the support of free speech and media in this region of the world. But I would like to bring to your attention reports of suppression of those same rights in the region by our own government actions as described in this article in The Globe and Mail.

I am asking you to introduce legislation that protects these human rights values at all NGOs with which our government enters contracts. It disturbs me that we as a nation are not practicing what we preach, with increasing frequency lately.

--begin excerpt--

On May 21 in Washington, Andrew Natsios, the head of USAID, gave a speech blasting U.S. NGOs for failing to play a role many of them didn't realize they had been assigned: doing public relations for the U.S. government. According to InterAction, the network of 160 relief and development NGOs that hosted the conference, Mr. Natsios was "irritated" that starving and sick Iraqi and Afghan children didn't realize that their food and vaccines were coming to them courtesy of George W. Bush. From now on, NGOs had to do a better job of linking their humanitarian assistance to U.S. foreign policy and making it clear that they are "an arm of the U.S. government." If they didn't, InterAction reported, "Natsios threatened to personally tear up their contracts and find new partners."

For aid workers, there are even more strings attached to U.S. dollars. USAID told several NGOs that have been awarded humanitarian contracts that they cannot speak to the media -- all requests from reporters must go through Washington. Mary McClymont, CEO of InterAction, calls the demands "unprecedented," and says, "It looks like the NGOs aren't independent and can't speak for themselves about what they see and think."

Many humanitarian leaders are shocked to hear their work described as "an arm" of government; most see themselves as independent (that would be the "non-governmental" part of the name).
--end excerpt--
Full text of article here:

Thank you for your time and attention into this issue,
Chris Coggins
Macon, GA