Friday, May 22, 2009
Human Rights Watch and Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network wrote a letterto Jordan's Prime Minister, Nader al-Dahabi, calling upon Jordan to scrap its proposed amendments to a law regulating NGOs and instead propose a new law that would guarantee freedom of association. In their letter to al-Dahabi, the 2 groups called on the government to revisit aspects of the 2008 Law of Societies limiting the activities and membership of NGOs and their ability to function independently from the government.
In 2006, a coalition of Jordanian NGOs proposed a draft law, but the government rejected it, instead submitting an alternative draft law to parliament that was more restrictive than the old Law of Charitable Societies of 1966. Parliament approved the government's draft with minor changes in 2008, and King Abdullah signed it into law in December 2008. An outcry by local and international NGOs prompted al-Dahabi's government to offer a new round of consultations with NGOs under the aegis of the Social Development Minister, Hala Latouf. But the resulting amendments proposed by the government fell short of NGO expectations. The parliamentary session expected for June is to vote on these government amendments.
The current law prohibits associations from pursuing any "political objectives" and activities that violate "public order." Both terms are broad and invite governmental abuse. The law also discriminates against non-Muslim religious organizations, by restricting the activities they are allowed to engage in. Further, in violation of Jordan's international treaty obligations, it excludes non-Jordanians and children from establishing associations in Jordan. The 2009 proposed amendments would ease the process of establishing an association by describing more clearly the duties of the registrar of associations, but they continue to grant the government ultimate political control to decide whether an association can incorporate. The inclusion of a right to challenge such denials judicially provides inadequate redress, since the law includes no criteria for denying permission and the government could act lawfully by denying permission without reason. The 2 groups argued that the 2009 proposed amendments do not address the 2008 law's disproportionate government control over the work of NGOs, requiring them to submit annual plans to the government in advance, to admit government officials to meetings, and to seek prior approval for any foreign funding. The 2008 law also allows the government to remove an NGO's management and replace it with state functionaries and to dissolve the NGO for repeating minor infractions of the law. The new amendments would actually increase governmental control, allowing it access to an NGO's finances at any time without cause or a judicial warrant. According to the 2 groups, such measures make it difficult for associations to operate independently of government.