Freedom of Association in Jordan: King Abdullah II Should Reject New Societies’ Law

Press release

The Club of Madrid, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Human Rights Watch and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT) consider that the amendments to the Societies Law passed by Jordan’s Upper House of Parliament on July 15, 2009 threaten to unduly restrict freedom of association in Jordan.

Our organizations welcome the government’s introduction of amendments in 2009 to the Societies Law passed in 2008 following criticism both Jordanian and international civil society groups voiced regarding the law’s compliance with Jordan’s international obligations. The 2009 amendments, however, do not fully take those criticisms into account. Under the 2009 version of the Societies Law, the executive branch would continue to wield excessive powers over the registration and activities by associations.

The registration of an association would continue to depend on the authorities’ approval, rather than a mere notification procedure. Grounds to deny approval are not spelled out, potentially rendering government decisions immune to judicial appeals, if such decisions in fact conformed with the nominal requirements of the law on paper. Additionally, the authorities would retain wide powers over an association’s activities: they could delegate a representative to attend the association’s General Assembly meetings; an association would have to submit in advance to the authorities its annual plan of activities; certain decisions concerning the association’s by-laws and personnel would have to be approved by the authorities; associations could receive foreign funds only following prior approval by the authorities.

On July 12, 2009, members of the Lower House of Parliament rejected a minor improvement in the law that the government had introduced in the 2009 amendments. Under the rejected amendment, the Ministry of Social Development responsible for overseeing associations would have assumed responsibility for approving foreign grants. But the Lower House decided to retain these powers in the Council of Ministers.

Our organizations have repeatedly voiced concern over the 2008 law and the 2009 draft amendments. On June 14, 2009, the National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) issued a statement reiterating the need to respect international standards of freedom of association in the amendments to the law, as did more than 500 Jordanian civil society representatives during a national campaign carried out from March to June 2009. Representatives of the Jordanian coalition of nongovernmental organisations to Parliament said that “Jordan’s Government and parliamentarians have repeatedly failed to acknowledge their obligations under international law. They have not explained why the restrictions on civil society are necessary in a democratic society”.

The 2009 version of the Societies Law, if promulgated into law by King Abdullah, would maintain restrictions of a nature that violates Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Jordan ratified on March 23, 1976, as well as contravenes the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998.

Our organizations call upon King Abdullah II to reject the text in its current form and to produce a revised version of the Law of Societies taking into consideration the comments civil society representatives have offered in light of Jordan’s obligations under international law. We also call on the European Union (EU) to strongly urge Jordan to respect and implement its human rights commitments regarding freedom of association, and to condition any strengthening of relations between the EU and Jordan on concrete commitments to protect freedom of association.

Club of Madrid +34 911 548 230

EMHRN: +45 32 64 17 16 / +20 2 010 107 7207

HRW: +1 646 322 8355

FIDH: + 33 1 43 55 25 18

OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39

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