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The profound crisis our nation faces as a result of COVID-19 may seem like good reason to focus on what is closest to home. It’s painful enough to witness and share the suffering of those immediately around us without looking any further afield.

Woman with ambulance in Bujumbura, Burundi
PWRDF / Flickr
A woman with an ambulance in Bujumbura, Burundi

But we at FCNL, in keeping with the Quaker history of opening our hearts to those beyond our borders, recognize that it is not just Americans who are impacted by the pandemic. Those who lack the resources to cope with the spread of the virus – nutritious food and clean water, adequate sanitation and housing, access to medical care and health facilities, financial safety nets – will bear the heaviest burden.

That’s why we are hard at work lobbying on behalf of those whose voices might not otherwise be heard on Capitol Hill, to ensure our foreign assistance helps ease their burden. Our COVID-19 efforts in the international sphere include:

1. Lobbying to lift sanctions that are impeding the delivery of medical equipment and supplies.

Even in normal times, FCNL opposes broad economic sanctions that harm innocent civilians. But with the spread of COVID-19, the lifting of these sanctions becomes a humanitarian imperative. FCNL joined 32 other NGOs in urging the administration to lift sanctions against Iran and endorsed a letter to the Trump administration signed by 34 members of Congress. We have been working to include sanctions waivers in the next COVID-19 stimulus and relief package.

2. Urging the resumption of aid frozen for political reasons.

The administration has stunned the world by halting funding to the World Health Organization in the midst of a global health crisis. It has suspended humanitarian funds for northern Yemen due to concerns about Houthi taxes on and obstruction of aid. And it has refused to distribute aid that has already been appropriated by Congress to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza over governance and policy disputes. But with the specter of hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people becoming infected in these already unlivable areas, the need to provide lifesaving aid is paramount. FCNL supported letters from Congress to the State Department and USAID urging the resumption of this aid. FCNL also issued a statement welcoming the news that Saudi Arabia declared a two-week ceasefire to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Yemen.

3. Seeking additional resources to address global needs.

FCNL’s lobbyists have been calling on key House and Senate offices to include significantly increased funding in the next coronavirus package not just for global health and humanitarian assistance, but also for peacebuilding programs. We are concerned that the disease pandemic could easily spiral into a violence epidemic if we do not invest in the peaceful prevention of violent conflict.

4. Using the opportunity to end wars, build up diplomacy, and international cooperation.

FCNL joined the call for a global ceasefire and is working to end U.S. complicity in the Saudi and UAE-led war in Yemen. We have endorsed specific recommendations for international cooperation in the Sahel region of Africa to save lives from disease and violence. And we joined a coalition of 72 international organizations calling for a humanitarian ceasefire and emergency measures in Afghanistan. We are continuing to work on a set of recommendations to help turn the exit agreement in Afghanistan into a comprehensive peace agreement.

5. Changing the paradigm.

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the extreme mismatch between the Pentagon budget and the true challenges to domestic national security. Spending another $740 billion next year on preparing for and conducting wars while Americans are dying for lack of test kits, ventilators, and personal protective equipment is a moral outrage. We are strengthening our public messaging to encourage our broad network to contact their legislators to express their desire for transformational change in the way national priorities are set and budgeted.

Diana Ohlbaum, Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy

Diana Ohlbaum

Senior Strategist and Legislative Director for Foreign Policy
Diana Ohlbaum directs FCNL’s foreign policy lobbying team and leads an effort to replace the current U.S. foreign policy paradigm of military domination and national superiority with a more ethical and effective one based on cooperation and mutual respect.

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