Menendez-Led Letter Calls on Senate Appropriators to Fund Artsakh De-Mining Program and Support Regional Rehabilitation Services
WASHINGTON—More than 30 Senators have joined the more than 75 U.S. Representatives in seeking increased Fiscal Year 2021 Artsakh funding for The HALO Trust’s de-mining efforts and much-needed rehabilitation services, like those provided by the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The Senate letter – circulated by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee – calls on the bipartisan leadership of the Appropriations Committee to mandate at least $1.5 million in FY21 assistance for U.S. humanitarian programs in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh). This humanitarian aid program, long under attack by Azerbaijan’s Aliyev regime, has been aggressively targeted by the Trump Administration, even as it ramps up U.S. defense and security aid to Baku.
The letter also asks for robust funding for Nagorno-Karabakh-based regional rehabilitation services for survivors of landmine injuries and individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities. Among programs that could potentially be supported by such aid is the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center in Stepanakert, which treats 1,000 patients in-house a year, and provides more than 24,000 out-patient treatments. Despite its remarkable progress, the Center still only meets 20% of the needs of the local population, leaving as many as 60,000 regional patients without adequate rehabilitation services.
Joining Senator Menendez in co-signing the letter were Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Robert Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Edward Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
“This strong showing of Senate support – on top of the recent House letter signed by more than 75 Representatives, and the overwhelming adoption of the Valadao and Cox amendments – clearly establishes Congressional intent to continue U.S. humanitarian aid to Artsakh, despite the senseless, heartless attempts by the Administration to kill this life-saving program,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “We want to thank Senator Menendez for his strong leadership on this issue, and look forward to continuing our work in both houses of Congress to defend the Artsakh aid program.”
HALO USA Executive Director Chris Whatley concurred, noting, “We are thrilled to see this overwhelming display of support for our demining program in Nagorno Karabakh, and are grateful to Senator Menendez and the many Senators who consistently fight to ensure that HALO’s life-saving work can continue. Given our recent efforts to support the local population of Karabakh in the fight against COVID-19 in addition to our work addressing the threat of landmines, HALO’s presence in the region has never been more important.”
More than 10,000 pro-Artsakh advocates called on senators to take action through the ANCA’s Rapid Rapid responder system, responding to a nationwide call to action put out by the organization. Expanded U.S. assistance to Artsakh is a part of the ANCA’s 360-degree policy priorities, outlined at anca.org/anca360.
In March of this year, more than 75 U.S. Representatives signed a similar letter calling on House appropriators to fund Artsakh aid. Last year, 22 Senators and 89 Representatives cosigned bipartisan letters defending the USAID-funded HALO-Trust de-mining program in Artsakh. In 2017 and again in 2019 the U.S. House passed amendments supporting continued U.S. aid to Artsakh.
Text of Letter Senator Robert Menendez and 30 Senators In Support of Continued U.S. Funding For Artsakh Demining
April 24, 2020
Dear Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Leahy:
We write to express our support for continued funding for humanitarian projects in Nagorno-Karabakh. The United States has a long history of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, including USAID’s funding of humanitarian landmine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance. We ask you to include provisions supporting humanitarian demining and UXO clearance programs and other humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh in the FY 2021 appropriations for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.
USAID-funded humanitarian demining work has cleared almost 500 minefields in Nagorno-Karabakh since 2000, saving untold civilian lives and building goodwill towards the United States. The Subcommittee has previously recognized the necessity of demining work, writing in the FY 2016 and FY 2017 reports that “The Committee recognizes that Nagorno-Karabakh has a per capita landmine accident rate among the highest in the world, and that mine clearance programs have been effective where implemented.” However, mines continue to threaten civilians in the region. Mines have killed 12 people since 2017 and the past year alone has seen 12 near-miss scenarios.
We acknowledge that the Administration wants to focus on the peace process, and we share their desire to see progress on that front. However, we also understand that the Administration intends on ceasing its humanitarian clearance work at a time when landmines still threaten civilians. Anger and resentment from landmine accidents reduce the population’s desire to see peace, so the threat of un-cleared landmines and UXO undermines other programs aimed at supporting the peace process. Beyond that threat to peace, humanitarian demining and UXO clearance programs, as well as other humanitarian programs that assist civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh, build goodwill towards the United States that could make American programming to prepare populations for peace more effective.
To gain a better understanding of how much demining and UXO clearance remains to be done, we recommend that funding be appropriated for an independent assessment of remaining contamination from mines and UXO in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as the risk that contamination poses to civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh. The independent assessment should be either an independent review of an existing survey that has received U.S. funding and is currently ongoing, or a new independent survey; the implementing agency would decide which option best suits the circumstances. This independent assessment will help the Subcommittee and the Administration determine what levels of funding are appropriate for future years. This funding should be appropriated in addition to funding for FY 2021 mine clearance, as there are identified minefields that can be cleared while the assessment is ongoing.
To continue saving civilian lives, build goodwill towards the United States, and better understand the extent of remaining mine and UXO contamination in Nagorno-Karabakh, we ask that all three of the following provisions be included in the FY 2021 appropriations for State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs:
— Of the funds appropriated by this Act, not less than $1.5 million shall be made available to fund demining and landmine risk education programs in Nagorno-Karabakh.
— Robust funding for Nagorno-Karabakh-based regional rehabilitation services for survivors of landmine injuries and individuals with physical and cognitive disabilities.
— Funding for an independent assessment of remaining contamination from mines and unexploded ordnance in Nagorno-Karabakh and the risk that contamination poses to civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh. The independent assessment shall be either an independent review of an ongoing contamination survey or a new independent survey. The appropriate congressional committees shall receive regular updates on the assessment’s progress and the assessment results once completed.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests and for your work to support America’s long tradition of humanitarian assistance.