FOCA Responds to US-Saudi Announcement
New Structure Raises Questions, Offers Promise
Washington, DC, the Friends of Charity Association (FOCA) (http://www.foca.net), composed of leading Islamic charities committed to dialogue with the US government, opinion leaders and the media, expresses its views on the creation of the Saudi National Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad and on recent developments in the war on terrorism.
FOCA hailed the creation of the Commission as an important step in reforming the regulatory structure of charities in Saudi Arabia to increase transparency and ensuring that charitable contributions are made in accordance with the wishes of the donor. Among the founding principals of FOCA are the desire to promote transparency and accountability in charitable operations and the intent to establish model “best practices” for its member organizations. FOCA offers its full support to the new Commission as it seeks to achieve these same objectives.
At the same time the organization warned that steps should be taken early on in the life of the Commission to prevent unintended consequences. For example, the millions of visitors who travel to Saudi Arabia each year provide an obvious avenue of cash support for questionable organizations throughout the world. In the world of public diplomacy, shutting down popular organizations that do good work throughout the world could create a backlash in the Muslim world. FOCA pledges its support to the Commission in identifying these and other potential problems in the road ahead and working to overcome them.
But just as FOCA encourages increased transparency in charity’s operations, FOCA sees the need for increased transparency in the designation and regulation procedures currently in use. Of concern today is the designation of five additional branches of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation in statements made jointly by the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United States. Without commenting on the merits of the particular designations, FOCA pointed out problems with the current approach to curbing terrorist financing. “The current designation process is seriously flawed,” stated FOCA spokesman Wendell Belew. “Government agencies lack resources to properly investigate activities of suspect organizations, and they adamantly refuse to enter into direct dialogue with these entities.” As a result they pass up opportunities to correct improper practices and remove bad influences in the charitable world.
In addition, the designation process throws out the baby with the bathwater. For example, the State Department itself has conceded that Al Haramain provides good works in Africa. State Department official Karl Wycoff testified on April 1, 2004, “. . . [Al Haramain] also did a variety of good work. Closing these [African] offices has had the unintended consequence of depriving some of the needy of help. It is therefore essential that the U.S. pay attention to development issues and to public outreach.” Yet over 2,600 orphans remain homeless in Somalia following similar action in January 2004, with no evidence that any terrorist activity occurred at Al Haramain’s Somalia branch.
Freezing millions of dollars and ceasing good works around the world will never fully disrupt the trickle of funds needed for terrorist to commit their heinous acts. Indeed, careless designation of Islamic institutions can fuel anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world. Treasury Secretary Snow stated in Congressional testimony on March 25, 2004, “Al-Haramain is the counterpart to the United Way in the United States.” Enforcement actions against such a well regarded institution should be undertaken only with the highest level of transparency and solid evidence. As former Treasury and NSC official Jody Meyers warned, in Senate testimony on May 19, 2004, “insisting on sanctions without solid intelligence undermines our credibility and limits our ability to orchestrate collective action.”
FOCA appreciates the comments by Adel Al-Jubeir, Advisor to HRH Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz that “stopping charitable work is not an option.” FOCA welcomes joint efforts but invites all governments to bring transparency and accountability to its investigation by responding to the dialogue initiated by charity officials through FOCA’s initiative. Charities will continue their efforts in hotspots around the globe and must have the close cooperation of their governments and authorities in host countries in order to provide badly-needed humanitarian need without the stigma of supporting terrorists in any way.
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