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Jordan: Scrap New Laws That Stifle Democracy

US, EU Should Condition Aid on Kingdom’s Rights Record

(New York, July 1, 2008) – Prime Minister Nader Dahabi should withdraw two new draft laws on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and public assembly from consideration by parliament, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the prime minister. The draft law on NGOs would further expand the government’s wide control over establishing, operating, and funding NGOs. The draft law on assembly would continue to restrict Jordanians’ right to congregate, requiring the Ministry of Interior’s approval for meetings that discuss “public policies.”

" These draft laws show Jordan’s intolerance for critical debate in a democracy. Jordan is trying to put a legal veneer on its efforts to stifle civil society. "
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

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“These draft laws show Jordan’s intolerance for critical debate in a democracy,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Jordan is trying to put a legal veneer on its efforts to stifle civil society.”  
The government introduced the two new laws at an extraordinary session of parliament in May and June 2008, after Dahabi had withdrawn an earlier draft of the NGO law from parliamentary consideration in January 2008 and urged a revision of the assembly law. This followed criticism from NGOs and political parties, including a December 2007 Human Rights Watch report, “Shutting Out the Critics,” which documented how Jordan’s existing laws and policies violated the rights to association and assembly. International law allows only for restrictions on these rights in narrow circumstances that are “necessary in a democratic society.”  
The draft NGO law represents a drastic step backwards for the development of independent civil society organizations. The law would give the government power to obtain an NGO’s future work plans, governmental approval for donations to an NGO, and allow the government to shut down an NGO for minor infractions. The law allows the government to appoint a state employee to serve as temporary president of an NGO. Several European Commission- and US-funded human rights NGOs in the kingdom currently are registered as “non-profit companies,” under the less stringent Law on Companies. Under the new NGO law, however, such non-profit companies would need to comply with the new NGO laws’ provisions within one year, including mandatory Cabinet approval for foreign funding.  
The government’s goal with this law appears to be shutting out critics or rivals. In 2006, the government already had taken over two of Jordan’s largest NGOs, the Islamic Center Society (ISC) and the General Union of Voluntary Societies (GUVS). It relied on measures that the new draft law would legalize, such as continuing to run the NGO through government-imposed management and forcing the groups to accept new members with voting rights.  
The new draft assembly law makes only modest improvements over the existing law, allowing NGOs to hold General Assembly meetings without prior approval, provided it is “tied to the realization of [a NGO’s] objectives and according to the legislations regulating its work and efforts.” However, government approval would still be required for all other NGO meetings.  
Jordan announced it is seeking increased financial assistance from the European Commission, which is set to examine progress toward human rights in Jordan at the end of July 2008 under the bilateral Association Agreement. The commission stated in its 2007-2010 plan that a priority for Jordan is reforming the NGO law to comply with international human rights standards, but the proposed new laws show that the European Commission is apparently having little positive impact.  
Jordan is currently seeking $1 billion in aid from the United States, making US aid per capita to Jordan one of the highest in the world. The United States values its security cooperation with Jordan, whose intelligence service detained and tortured CIA prisoners rendered to Jordan from 2001-2004, and rarely criticizes Jordan publicly for its human rights violations, despite its professed support for increased democracy in Jordan.  
“Those giving money to Jordan should explain to their taxpayers why they have allowed Jordan to regress on human rights without protest while continuing ever-higher aid disbursements,” Whitson said.  
The European Commission and the United States should include among their existing conditions for financial assistance to the kingdom that Jordan pass laws on assembly and association that comply with international human rights standards.

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