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Arab and Muslim Groups Highlight Challenges During US Treasury Department Daylong Event on Charitable Giving

Washington, DC | August 18, 2008 | www.adc.org | This past Friday the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) coordinated a day long event with the US Department of Treasury entitled, “Charitable Principles of Good Governance and Anti-Terrorist Financing.” The first of its kind initiative, which was held at the Treasury Department Headquarters in Washington, DC, was a significant step in ensuring that the voices and concerns of the Arab and Muslim American communities are addressed.
Coming exactly two-weeks before the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan, when every able Muslim is asked to fulfill the religious obligation of alms giving, ADC views this as a valuable opportunity to openly discuss matters of vital importance regarding voluntary donations to charitable causes.
In addition to several components of the US Treasury Department, government agencies taking part in this initiative included the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Department of State, and the US Department of Justice. A number of other advocacy and charitable organizations also participated including the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the Council on Foundations, the Jerusalem Fund, American Charities for Palestine (ACP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Muslim Advocates, among others.
ADC provided a memorandum on some of the key community challenges associated with the Treasury Department and recommendations to address those challenges. They include:
1) Certain sections of the Charitable Giving Guidelines adopted in 2006. ADC recommends clear and reasonable amendments to the guidelines be set for both charities and donors to follow. These guidelines should provide members of all communities with equal opportunity/access to good faith charitable giving.
2) The distribution of government watch lists that include individuals‘ private information; including social security numbers, home addresses, and dates of birth, to private institutions and foreign entities which, on occasion, have made such lists publicly available on the internet. ADC recommends that safeguards be put in place to prevent such information from becoming public, and that a recourse for those individuals who are wrongfully placed on such lists be provided. Further, ADC seeks an explanation on whether the distribution of these lists has a correlation with the issue of bank account closures the Arab and Muslim American communities have been facing since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
3) The closures of bank accounts held by members of the Arab and Muslim American communities as a result of “suspicious activity” such as supporting family members in need during the 2006 war in Lebanon. ADC recommends that the term “suspicious activity,” be more defined to eliminate the unnecessary account closure of Arab and Muslim Americans; especially those who assist their families in times of crises overseas. ADC further recommends that banks be required to provide an explanation along with the notice to terminate an account. ADC recommends that government agencies refrain from sharing lists with non-governmental third parties and foreign entities. ADC also requests that a redress tool be implemented for these lists as many individuals are mistakenly placed on such lists. Individuals who are not offered redress will continue to endure long-term blacklisting from public institutions once this information is shared.
4) The policy of announcing “unindicted co-conspirator” lists publicly and the chilling effect it has created on key community advocacy and charitable organizations which were never charged with nor convicted of any criminal activity. ADC requests that federal authorities move away from labeling organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators” as this practice chills an organization‘s abilities to effectively function, taints the community‘s reputation, and potential donors will no longer give to the charity as a result of the label. It is a practice that is counter to our American traditions of due process and our heritage of an open, evidence-driven, legal system.
5) The significant lack of outreach by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) and the misunderstanding and lack of trust this has created in the relationship with the Arab and Muslim American communities. ADC recommends that OFAC, as an agency, become more proactive in outreach efforts and develop a working relationship with the Arab and Muslim American communities as well as any other communities that represent key stakeholders in our American system of government. OFAC could follow the lead of the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes within the Department of Treasury which has spearheaded the Treasury Department‘s outreach efforts in the past few years.
The event garnered extensive media attention including National Public Radio (“All Things Considered”), Congress Daily, and the Dow Jones Newswires. Coverage also included Al Arabiya Satellite Arabic News Channel, AlHurra TV News, and NHK Japanese World News.
Links to News Stories:
1) National Public Radio, “All Things Considered,” (Government Tries to Reassure Muslims on Charities): http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93666247&ft=1&f=1003
2) Congress Daily, (Arab-American Charities Still Wary After Treasury Meeting): http://www.nationaljournal.com/congressdaily/cd_20080815_6763.php
3) Dow Jones Newswires (US Treasury: Terror Groups Still Exploiting Charities): http://news.morningstar.com/newsnet/printNews.aspx?article=/DJ/200808151500DOWJONESDJONLINE000638_univ.xml
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