18 June 2009

EU-Jordan Subcommittee on Human rights: briefing note.

In light of the upcoming meeting for the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the EU-Jordan Association Council, to be held in Brussels on the 18th of June 2009, and following FIDH participation to the EU-Jordan Subcommittee preparatory meeting, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization in Jordan, the Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS) express their concern about the human rights situation in Jordan and offer effective recommendations to remedy the obstacles addressed.

Our organizations wish to emphasize the importance of involving civil society in the implementation of the Action Plan especially through systematic consultation of civil society organizations before and after Subcommittee meetings concerned with human rights. The Sub-Committee meeting is an important venue to evaluate the human rights situation in Jordan and translate general principles outlined in the Action Plan into concrete actions and commitments: our organizations therefore urge the European Union to raise these points with the Jordanian authorities during the upcoming meeting.

FIDH and ACHRS strongly advise that the following points be included in the agenda of the meeting of the Sub-Committee on human rights.

On violations of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association:

While FIDH and ACHRS have observed some improvements regarding freedom of expression, the fact remains that the media cannot operate freely or independently due to regular interference by the authorities in various capacities.

Nominally, under the Press and Publications Law of 2007, it is prohibited to imprison anybody for the expression of opinion in oral, written or any other form. Effectively imprisonment is instead made possible through the Penal Code, especially Article 150, in cases where such expression is deemed to "fuel national discord and incite sectarianism" or if considered "slander". The lack of consistency between the Press Law and the Penal Code has not yet been addressed and this delay has allowed the provisions of the Penal Code to be unduly used in the curtailment of free speech. Both charges stipulated in the Penal Code have been repeatedly used against journalists and writers often resulting in the imprisonment of journalists and media workers. For instance, a former Jordanian parliamentarian and human rights activits was prosecuted and detained on, inter alia, charges of defamation against the Minister of internal affairs. The Government stated the Minister for Internal Affairs had filed a suit in a personal capacity because of allegations made against him personally, not pertaining to his ministerial work or the general policies of his Ministr. A similar case concerning the governor of Amman almost resulted in the imprisonment of the editor of a weekly newspaper, who was detained on the "fueling national discord" charges.1

Regarding freedom of association generally, and specifically the ability of organizations like human rights NGOs to operate, FIDH and ACHRS express their dismay at the increasing restrictions emplaced by the authorities since 2000 on NGOs in the country. The approbation by the Jordanian Parliament of the Public Gathering Act and the Societies Act has shown a clear regression in both these areas.

The new Public Gathering Act adopted by the Parliament in 2008 provides a vague definition of "Public Gathering" that may be stretched to include everything from public meetings in open air to meetings/seminars/round tables among NGOs in hotels, and indeed applies high penalties for violations. In practice, governors retain the power to deny NGOs from holding meetings and workshops if their objectives are deemed to be outside the scope of work of the NGO, as judged by the executive authorities. Infringements of this law may carry high penalties and a maximum of six-month prison sentence.

The Society Law passed by the Senate and the Parliament passed in July 2008 further contributes to a highly restrictive human rights environment in the Kingdom. Unless amended by the King, the law levies several regulations that are incompatible with international standards for freedom of association. The authorities’ powers include requesting NGO work plans, shutting down NGOs for minor infractions, and appointing a state employee to serve as temporary president of the NGO in question. Provisions in Articles 4 to 8 of the Law clearly indicate that the government intends to retain full control with respect to the registration of organizations.3 The fact that an NGO needs direct government approval to receive funding from organizations based abroad broadly violates all international safeguards, from Art. 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR), Art.19 of International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that Jordan ratified on May 28, 1975, to the Arab Charter of Human Rights – ratified by Jordan on March 2004 - and the Sana’a Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Arab Media4.

As part of its bi-lateral dialogue with Jordan, based particularly on the Guidelines of the EU relating to Human Rights Defenders, FIDH and ACHRS call upon the EU to urge the Jordanian authorities:

to develop their cooperation with civil society organizations and ensure that the principles of Freedom of Association, Expression and Participation are unequivocally enshrined in legislature ;

to amend the Societies Act, effectively reducing restrictions on NGO activities and allowing them adequate autonomy as well as bringing the provisions of this law in line with international human rights standards especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR). Specifically, measures should be taken to eliminate the need for prior registration of new organizations and retract all restrictions on "permissible" categories/activities of NGO work ;

to carefully review the legislature applicable to crimes of terrorism, including the Criminal Code and the Law on Prevention of Terrorism, to ensure their abidance with international human rights standards and standards for combating organized crime.

On women’s rights:

The Jordanian Parliament notably adopted a new Protection from Family Violence Law in January 2009 that constitutes a positive development for reporting domestic violence including sexual violence and harassment, and includes guarantees compensation for the victims. However, this achievement is overshadowed by the fact that the law does not define these acts as criminal offenses and thus no criminal prosecutions can be made against the perpetrators.

Despite some positive developments with regard to women’s rights, FIDH and ACHRS remain preoccupied by the fact that women systematically face subjective prejudices in courts. It is important to realize that this has meant that in many cases legal action for women is futile: the Jordanian government must exert exceptional effort in these settings to safeguard women’s rights as enshrined in Jordan legislature. This problem is particularly apparent regarding "honor killings" in Jordan. Consistent monitoring has proved that judges often take a lenient view in cases of « honour » killings, especially when the perpetrators come from the woman’s family. So-called honour crimes still occur commonly and the perpetrators are not regarded as criminals but benefit from the clearly discriminatory "extraordinary circumstances" clause in the Penal Code.5 Adding insult to injury, the endangered women are jailed for their protection, and their release can only be granted by one of her male relatives. The detained women are eventually transferred to a ’home shelter,’ or ’Dar Al-Wefaq,’ of which in there are currently 3, totaling 100 spaces for detainees. While FIDH and ACHRS welcome the establishment of safe havens for women under threat, there remains much to be done to ensure that these venues meet the demands and needs of women victims of violence.

Jordan signed on to the UN Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1992 and ratified it in 1997 with some reservations, particularly to the sections which grant adult women full freedom of mobility without male consent, choice of residence without male consent (Article 15 (4)6), and the right to pass their nationality on to their children (Article 9(2)7). Women are also discriminated against in inheritance matters (Reservation s to Article 16 (1), (c), (d) and (g)8). Quite unsuccessfully, the government justifies such measures by pointing out that "dangerous situations" may surround, and the fear of demographic change. It is also argued that they are preserving a culture of community. Jordan has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW.

Recently, the Cabinet decided to lift the reservations on paragraph 4 of Article 15, which gives women freedom of mobility and choice of residence without consent of their husbands or other male family members."9 The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement warning that "families may face the threat of total collapse under the CEDAW" and are advocating for the Cabinet to reverse its position or even withdraw from the convention entirely instead. The IAF argues that it was wrong for the country to agree on universal standards for women’s rights without holding a national dialogue first. While insisting on national consultation before passing legislation may be a valid point for many parliamentary affairs in Jordan, the corrective measure can never be renouncing the CEDAW which would by extension constitute a rejection of other key instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

FIDH and ACHRS have found that, unfortunately, The National Commission for Women (JCWA), set up to monitor the implementation of the CEDAW Convention has inadequate powers conferred upon it and insufficient funding to implement its tasks.

Furthermore, FIDH and ACHRS have observed that there remain some serious restrictions on freedom of housing and accommodation for women. Article 37 of the Code of Personal Status reads that "the wife must obey the husband and move to live with him wherever he wants". Nor can women yet demand divorce, due to the government’s refusal to amend the existing law from 2006: the temporary amendments pertaining to such a right remains pending afore the parliament for the seventh year.

Women migrant domestic workers are particularly at risk of abuse and declarations by the Ministry of Labour at the end of 2008 seem to indicate that the minimum wage will not be applicable to workers in the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) nor to domestic helpers.11

The percentages of women ministers in government and judicial positions are still quite small and quite arbitrary. We believe that women’s role as decision makers and leaders needs to be supported and increased, by enforcing women’s capacity to understand and claim their rights and by encouraging initiatives run by women. Women should become the protagonists of a deeper social change.

Considering Jordan’s position vis-à-vis the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified by the government on July the 1st, 1992, FIDH and ACHRS remind that the Jordanian government is legally obliged to observe the equal rights of women in a number of areas.

In order to ensure the respect for women’s rights and guarantee equality between men and women before the law in Jordan, FIDH and ACHRS call upon the EU to urge the Jordanian government to:

lift their reservations on the CEDAW, in particular on Article 15 (4) concerning the freedom of movement and the choice of the residence (attention: Jordan announced during UPR the withdrawal of this article, current reservations are held on article 9 paragraph 4, to allow Jordanian women to pass their nationality to their children and foreign spouses and article16 paragraph 1 ©, (d) & (g), which stipulates giving women equal rights with men in matters of marriage, divorce and custody of children; sign and ratify the Additional Protocol to the CEDAW.)

Amend the sixth paragraph in the constitution to refer to gender equality and ensure the existence of a comprehensive law criminalizing all forms of violence against women which:

- Allows for Jordanian women to confer their nationality upon their children without exception.

- Ensures that perpetrators of "honour" crimes do not benefit from a reduced penalty

- Ensures that "honour" crimes are treated as seriously as other violent crimes in regard to investigation and prosecution.

- Increases the number of "home shelters" in Jordan for women victims of violence.

Adjust the Personal Status Law to adhere to international conventions.

Support the National Commission for Women as a supervisory body entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the CEDAW.

End the discriminations against women migrant domestic workers both in legislation and at practical level.

On torture and unfair judicial proceedings

FIDH and ACHRS have been following the incidence of widespread practices of torture on the territory of the Jordanian Kingdom and the consistent occurrence of arbitrary arrests and abusive treatment of detainees, primarily by the General Intelligence Department (GID) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)- )- a military security agency and central detention facility respectively, both which are directly associated with the office of the Jordanian Prime Minister.

The severity of the situation has been aggravated by the Counter Terrorism Law, approved by the Jordanian Parliament on August 29th ,2006. The Law was passed despite much discontent on the part of independent Members of Parliament, opposition party leaders and Human Rights activists who argued that the law infringes on public freedoms and peaceful political activities. On the level of international legislation Jordan also falls short: it has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and the 1996, 2000 and 2004 reports under the Convention are pending. Jordan has, thus far, not allowed itself to be party to special measures, or permitted a visit from the Special Rapporteur on Torture.

In early 2008, the Public Security Directorate assigned prosecutors to investigate abuses in all national prisons and allowed the National Centre for Human Rights to set up an office inside Swaqa prison. However, upon the release of a critical report on the April riot in Muwaqqar prison in which the government response was questioned, the authorities closed the NCHR office in Swaqa prison. This demonstration of negative retaliation indicates that progress made in the fight against torture can be easily reneged and would encourage self censorship by human rights organizations, particularly the national instruments.

Although torture is criminalized in the Penal Code, there was no prosecutions for the crime of torture in 2008. This silence on the issue in torture came despite the fact that in 2007, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the Special Rapporteur on Extra judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the Special Rapporteur on the question of Torture brought to the attention of the Jordanian Government information received regarding 2100 prisoners held at Swaqa Correction and Rehabilitation Centre who were reportedly subjected to repeated beatings and other forms of torture and ill-treatment. As a result, two prisoners died in detention. Nevertheless, no investigations into the allegations of the deaths in custody or torture were initiated and no perpetrator was brought to justice and the following year, not a single prosecution on torture occured.

The difficulty of monitoring allegations of torture and prosecuting the perpetrators is significantly caused by the current lack of an independent mechanism through which prisoners can file complaints of abuse and for instances of torture to be brought to light. The presence of such a body is critical and would promote transparency and openness across the penal system.

FIDH and ACHRS call upon the EU to urge the Jordan government, state party since December 13, 1991, of the Convention Against Torture (CAT), to:

Take fast measures to sign the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against torture and allow itself to be party to Special Measures and receive visits from Special Rapporteurs so as to ensure adherence to international and national legislation prohibiting torture.

Fully enforce the laws criminalizing torture, and guarantee that perpetrators are brought to justice particularly through fully enforcing the laws criminalizing torture, and guarantee that perpetrators are brought to justice, particularly through enhancing independent court prosecutors’ role in cases involving police and detention facilities.

Incorporate the absolute prohibition of torture into the Constitution and establish an effective and independent complaint system for torture and abuses leading to criminal investigations in order to put an end to torture and ill treatment, as well as to arbitrary detentions and secret incommunicado detentions;

Fully respect the right to a fair trial through the immediate abolishment of the special court system within Security services and the transferal of their jurisdiction to ordinary and independent public prosecutors and/or criminal courts
Last Update 18 June 2009

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