Serious Threat on Freedom of Association

Press release

Geneva-Paris, December 24, 2007. 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), expresses its deep concern at the bill of law that is currently discussed upon in the Jordanian Parliament.

On October 9, 2007, the Jordanian Cabinet proposed a new law on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that seriously threatens freedom of association in Jordan as it endangers the independence of NGOs, in a context where the actual Jordanian legislation (Law of association No. 33 of 1966) is regularly criticised as violating international law.

In particular, this bill of law contains a number of provisions that would give the Ministry of Social Development the power to refuse to license any NGO without having to give any reason. The Ministry of Social Development could also dissolve any association for the following reasons: if “meetings are held without the presence of representatives from the Ministry”, if “the association gets any agreement with any agency without prior approval of the Ministry” or “for having in a meeting less number than the minimum required in registration or having doubts on fines or giving inaccurate information”.

The draft law also penalises any person who speaks in the name of an un-licensed NGO, the maximum sentence being two years in prison.

The bill of law forbids any NGO to have branches or to have only men, women or youth in its staff, or to become a member or a partner of a foreign NGO.

Finally, the draft law contains provisions regarding the financing of NGOs which would constitute further obstacles to their activity: contributions should only be from founders’ money; a deposit of up to 150,000 US $ should be made, which could be confiscated if the NGO were dissolved; a fund would be established for all foreign donations and projects to be decided by the Ministry of Social Development as to which NGO might receive money or implement any project. Moreover, foreign agencies who work in Jordan upon a license will have to spend not less than 375,000 US $ per year.

The Observatory expresses its deep concern with this bill of law that could very likely put at risk the continuity of the work and very existence of some human rights organisations, and considers that its adoption would blatantly violate international instruments on human rights that guarantee freedom of association, in particular the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights and the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998.

As a consequence, the Observatory calls upon the Jordanian Parliament to reject this bill, which is yet another attempt to clamp down on independent civil society, and to conform, in any circumstances, with the constitutional right to establish civil society organisations and international standards regarding freedom of association, in particular the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 20) and those of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which article 5(b) states that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others at national and international levels, to form, join and participate in non-governmental organisations, associations or groups”.

The Observatory further calls upon the international community to take all necessary measures to ensure that the Jordanian Government conforms, in all circumstances, to its international human rights commitments.

More generally, the Observatory urges the Jordanian authorities to put an end to any act of harassment against human rights NGOs, their members and all human rights defenders in the country, as well as to conform with Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, above-mentioned Article 5(b), as well as Article 12.2, which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH : Gael Grilhot, + 00 33 1 43 55 25 18
OMCT : Delphine Reculeau, + 00 41 22 809 49 39

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