The Foreign Ministers of Member States of the European Union
The High Representative of the European Union for the CFSP, Mr. Javier Solana
The Commissioner for External Relations, Ms. Benita Ferrero-Waldner
The Personal Representative of the SG/HR on Human Rights, Ms. Riina Kionka

                      Brussels, 18 July 2008

Dear Foreign Ministers,
Dear High Representative,
Dear Commissioner,
Dear Personal Representative,

In advance of the European Union - Jordan Association Council Meeting scheduled for July 23, Human Rights Watch and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network would like to bring to your attention five areas in which Jordan's human rights performance is either regressing or making limited progress in line with stated goals and commitments between the EU and Jordan.

The European Union has in recent years pledged to work more closely with Jordan, notably through the adoption of an Action Plan within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, January 2005, and has steadily increased its financial assistance to the country over the past four years. However the human rights chapter of the Action plan is lacking concrete, measurable and time-bound commitments to assess its implementation. In particular, we recommend that a monitoring mechanism is set up with benchmarks for future evaluation.

In view of the Association Council, we believe the European Union should seek to obtain Jordan's commitment to measurable change in the following areas where its laws, policies and practices are at odds with international human rights:

    - freedom of association and peaceful assembly
    - torture in the prison system
    - administrative detention
    - intelligence service law enforcement abuses
    - women's rights

We urge you to agree on practical and verifiable Jordanian commitments along the lines of recommendations in the attached memorandum in each of the five areas in order to improve Jordan's compliance with international human rights standards. Achievements in human rights objectives should form an integral part of the EU's deepening relations with Jordan, including its assistance program.


Sarah Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

Kamel Jendoubi
Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network

In view of the Jordan-European Union Association Council
July 18, 2008

    1. Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly

In June 2008, the government surprised local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) by putting forward a draft NGO law (Law of Societies) that is every bit as restrictive as a draft that had been put on the parliamentary schedule in October 2007 only days before parliamentary elections. After the parliament did not vote on the draft, the new prime minister, Nader Dahabi, withdrew it in January 2008 following civil society protests and publication of Human Rights Watch's December 2007 report, "Shutting Out the Critics.¨

The Ministry of Social Development led a series of consultations on a new draft NGO law in early 2008. The resulting draft of June 2008 presented NGOs with the prospect of significantly more restrictive work conditions. Both houses of parliament have since passed the law, awaiting King Abdullah's signature.

The government also did not consult with NGOs or political parties on a new draft law on public assembly, which has also passed both houses of parliament.

With respect to both new laws, Jordan has failed to live up to its commitment of increased consultation with civil society on important legislation affecting basic civil liberties.

NGO Law (Law of Societies)

The 1966 law governing NGOs requires that the Ministry of Social Development grant a license before a new organization can function, whereas international best practice recommends a notification-only process of registration. The new NGO law, if signed into law by the king, would continue to give the minister powers to deny without cause an NGO application. If the minister fails to reply within two months, an NGO registration is considered approved, but the law fails to specify how an NGO can document its incorporation to begin legal activities. Particularly troubling, the minister would also be able to insert a government official among the NGO's founding members.

The 1966 law and the new NGO law similarly provide for excessive ministerial control over the work of an NGO in violation of freedom of association and other basic rights. Currently, the ministry has law enforcement-style authority to enter NGO facilities at any time and seize any records for any reason. The new NGO law would oblige NGOs to furnish the ministry with copies of their future work plans, and allow the government to audit accounts and review past work. The new NGO law would also severely restrict the range of NGO activities to areas that are not the "domain of political parties,¨ a broadly worded restriction that is incompatible with the right to free association and expression.

Under the new NGO law, an NGO must inform the ministry in advance of its general assembly meetings. Certain decisions taken there will not be considered lawful until the minister issues approval. Decisions are automatically invalid if prior notice was not given or if a ministerial official was barred from attending general assembly meetings (government attendance is not a necessary condition, however). The minister must also approve the opening of any branch offices of an NGO.

Existing and proposed governmental powers allow the authorities to impose a temporary management of government officials on an NGO or to close it down altogether for minor infractions of the NGO law or the NGO's own bylaws without first having recourse to the judiciary. The new NGO law would also force NGOs to accept new members with voting rights for its management board, allowing the government to infiltrate and take over an NGO by other means.

The new NGO law also restricts foreign and domestic funding for NGOs, while the 1966 law does not impose such conditions. Jordanian NGOs would need cabinet approval for every single foreign donation, and foreign NGOs in Jordan would need cabinet approval for every single Jordanian donation. Violators who keep or use¨ foreign funds without declaring them will receive a minimum three-month prison sentence (a maximum is not specified.)

Assembly Law (Law on Public Gatherings)

The new Assembly Law contains some improvements over the old law, but does not restore the freedom of assembly guaranteed before the existing law introduced drastic restrictions in 2001. Prior to 2001, demonstrations and public gatherings only required notifying the authorities, whereas now organizers of such events have to obtain advance, written approval from the authorities.

The new Assembly Law continues to require prior written approval by the governor in order to hold a public meeting, while reducing the governor¡¦s response time from three to two days and considering a lack of response to be an approval. The governor is still not obliged, however, to justify any refusal to grant permission for any gathering. The new law would exempt from the requirement to seek permission only general assembly meetings of NGOs, professional associations, and political parties, among other legally recognized bodies, "on condition that these meetings and gatherings are linked to the realization of their objectives and in accordance with the legislations regulating their work and activities" (article 3.1). All other meetings and public demonstrations require prior approval. Human Rights Watch's 2007 report, "Shutting Out the Critics¨ presented ample recent evidence that governors turn down large numbers of requests for such peaceful gatherings.

The European Union and member states should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Rescind the NGO and Assembly Laws;
  • Start a drafting process to revise the existing Law on Public Gatherings that includes broad civil society participation and assistance by international human rights law experts, and:
    • Abolish the requirement for prior approval of any public meeting or demonstration;
    • Define the meaning of "public gathering" to include only gatherings in publicly accessible places or those that are open to the public;
  • Start a drafting process to revise the existing NGO Law to include broad participation by civil society and assistance by international human rights law experts , and:
    • Make registration of associations automatic upon formal notification;
    • Remove the government's ability to appoint founding members, impose any form of governmental management, or dissolve an NGO without recourse to the judiciary;
    • Remove the law enforcement-type powers of the Ministry of Social Development to enter NGO premises and access files at will;
    • Permit funding of NGOs, whether foreign or local, as long as all foreign exchange and customs laws are satisfied.

    2. Torture in the Prison System

Torture remains rife in Jordan's prisons, despite a reform program initiated in 2006. Guards torture inmates with impunity because it remains up to police prosecutors and police judges at the Police Court to prosecute or try their fellow officers.

Human Rights Watch Prison Visits
Human Rights Watch visited five of Jordan's 10 prisons in August 2007 (Muwaqqar, Swaqa, Salt, Qafqafa, Aqaba), one prison in October 2007 (Juwaida), and one prison in April 2008 (Birain). The Jordanian authorities allowed us full access except to Juwaida prison, which we requested to visit in August 2007, but were denied access. In April 2008 we met with the leadership of the Public Security Directorate (PSD) to learn about prison reform, and we will publish a report on our findings in coming months.

Jordan's Prison Reform
Jordan's prison reform focuses on building a string of new prisons, separating convicted prisoners from pre-trial detainees, providing work and rehabilitation services to convicted prisoners, and providing better health care to all prisoners. Police prosecutors now have a new office in every prison to investigate abuses by guards. All prison staff and, separately, the directors, now undergo training in non-lethal use of force, riot control, communication skills, and human rights.

The government is completing construction of a 240-cell super-maximum security prison, Muwaqqar II, which may be used to house Islamist national security suspects. ("Super-max" prisons have been characterized by ill-treatment caused by extreme isolation of prisoners in solitary confinement. They were designed for incorrigibly violent inmates, not for those accused of crimes with political motives whose behavior in prison may not be violent.)

Jordanian Islamists accused or convicted of crimes against national security are already housed in separate facilities in small-group isolation within two prisons, Juwaida and Swaqa. Three to four prisoners share a cell and exercise alone and have since July 2007 only rarely been able to mix with fellow prisoners. In Turkey, Human Rights Watch documented in its report "Small Group Isolation In Turkish Prisons: An Avoidable Disaster" that this type of small-group isolation impaired the mental health of inmates.

Jordan's Torture Problem
In June 2006 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and a team of investigators visited Jordan and uncovered numerous instances of torture. Since that time, Jordan's prison reform program has failed to achieve accountability for acts of torture. The prison-based police prosecutors who took up work in February 2008 had not filed a single case as of April 2008, despite evidence of beatings uncovered by Human Rights Watch during that time. The Public Security Directorate, in its investigation into the burning to death of three prisoners at Muwaqqar prison in April 2008, seemed intent on shielding officials from prosecution.

The Police Court has until now tried only a handful of prison officials, and sentences in those few instances have been excessively lenient. Two guards found guilty of beating a prisoner to death received a prison sentence of only two and a half years each. A prison director found to have personally beaten up to 70 inmates received only a US$180 fine, and was not dismissed from the PSD.

Lenient sentences by judges of the Police Court, appointed by the Public Security Chief, hardly serve as a deterrent. An even greater obstacle is the failure by police prosecutors to take up investigations and diligently prosecute offenders.

While civilian prosecutors under the Ministry of Justice also have jurisdiction to pursue such crimes against officials, in practice only police prosecutors under the Public Security Directorate investigate such cases.

Torture typically takes two forms, often combined. In one, guards beat a prisoner with electrical cables knotted together or with a truncheon; in the other they suspend a prisoner by the wrists off the ground for prolonged periods of time. Reasons for torture include perceived infractions of prison rules. Human Rights Watch encountered several dozen such cases in its prison visits. We have not yet investigated torture to extract confessions outside the General Intelligence Department (see below).

The European Union and Member States should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Remove jurisdiction over criminal matters from the Police Court;
  • Ensure civilian prosecutors assume jurisdiction over and carry out transparent and effective investigations into prison abuse, including by regular private meetings with prisoners;
  • Ensure adequate numbers of prison doctors, including psychiatrists, and train them to detect torture and ill-treatment;
  • Cancel plans to use Muwaqqar II, or any other facility, to hold prisoners in long-term solitary confinement or otherwise hold them contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

    3. Administrative Detention

The use of administrative detention has increased in Jordan over recent years, reaching over 12,000 cases in 2006, or just under one-fourth of overall prison admissions. Administrative detention laws are problematic because they deny persons fundamental rights to due process.

Jordan relies on the Crime Prevention Law of 1954 to circumvent provisions of the Criminal Procedure Law granting defendants due process rights. Under the 1954 law, the governor, who reports to the Ministry of Interior, can administratively detain for up to one year a person if he deems that person constitutes a "danger to the public," and the person fails to present monetary assurances the governor specifies. The governor is not required to present evidence of a crime or a crime in progress. Administrative detainees are only able to challenge their detentions in a court of law if there is a procedural violation in the issuance of the detention order. Administrative detainees are allowed legal assistance, but almost never have a lawyer present at the time the governor issues the detention order.

The governor is empowered to set monetary assurances, and can effectively prevent the detainee gaining release. Typical amounts for such assurances lie between JOD10,000 and JOD50,000 (US$15,000 and $75,000). As long as detainees present collateral, such as a land entitlement of equivalent value, they should only have to pay the fees of around 0.4 percent. On numerous occasions, however, governorate officials simply refused to accept the proffered assurance, which the law allows.

Police and the governor frequently use administrative detention to hold persons whom a judge had freed on judicial bail. In addition, police and governors use the law to circumvent the obligation under the criminal law to refer a suspect to the prosecutor within 24 hours for charge. Governors have detained persons for violating curfews and requirements to report to the police, persons who are victims of tribal feuds, persons with long criminal records, vagrants, and foreigners without documentation.

Women constitute an especially vulnerable group of administrative detainees. Governors place women and girls threatened with violence or at risk of being killed in "protective" custody as a form of administrative detention. The Crime Prevention Law used to justify administrative detention does not foresee protective custody. In fact, it grants the governor the authority to detain only persons who constitute a danger to society. In the case of these women and girls, it is the victim, not the perpetrator, whom the governor detains. Women held in "protective" custody are released only if a male family member can convincingly pledge that the family will not harm the woman. Release from administrative custody is generally a greater problem for women than for men, even for those not in protective custody. Governors allow only family members (generally male relatives) to act as sponsors for female administrative detainees. The very fact that a woman has been administratively detained is often enough to cause her family to abandon her and refuse to act as her sponsor. Thus, the societal costs of detention are far greater for women than for men. Men can more easily integrate back into society and find sponsors to give assurances for their release more readily than women. Women may spend years in administrative detention whereas men gain their release after weeks or months.

The European Union and member states should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Abolish the Crime Prevention Law and refer all persons to the civilian prosecutor for investigation and charge where the evidence supports suspicion of criminal conduct;
  • Ensure that current administrative detainees have effective recourse to legal counsel and to the courts to challenge the lawfulness of their detention;
  • Refer all women in protective custody to the government's Wifaq Center or alternative non-governmental shelters for women at risk of violence.

    4. Intelligence Service Law Enforcement

Human Rights Watch has documented abuses of persons in detention by the General Intelligence Department (GID), which has a long record of torture and of hiding detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Human Rights Watch in 2006 documented arbitrary arrests and torture by the GID in a report, "Suspicious Sweeps." In 2007, we detailed the lack of due process rights during detention in the case of Isam al-Utaibi (better known as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi) and of other prisoners following a series of unannounced visits to the detention center in August 2007. In April 2008, Human Rights Watch published "Double Jeopardy," on US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) renditions to Jordan, which concluded that Jordan's GID had served as a proxy jailer and torturer of CIA-rendered prisoners from 2001 to 2004.

The GID granted Human Rights Watch access to its detention facility in August 2007 and has also allowed the Amman-based National Center for Human Rights to conduct coordinated visits to the GID detention facility since late 2005.

The GID, whose law enforcement powers are not explicitly mentioned in law, continues to operate outside normal legal channels of prison supervision and does not in practice apply the Law on Correction and Rehabilitation Centers of 2004 it claims to abide by.

Isolation of detainees raises concerns about their treatment and due process rights. Detainees do not have the right to make telephone calls to inform relatives or their embassies of their whereabouts and any charges against them. The GID typically holds detainees incommunicado at least for some weeks before allowing weekly supervised visits. Detainees have no contact with lawyers, effectively denying them the right to legal counsel. Furthermore, the GID keeps all detainees in solitary confinement, often lasting months, while interrogators conduct their investigation. Prolonged solitary confinement can constitute ill-treatment and even torture.

The European Union and member states should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Implement a moratorium on GID arrests and detention until their law enforcement powers are specified in law;
  • Allow detainees to challenge their detention before a court of law;
  • Ensure civilian judicial oversight over the GID detention facility;
  • End routine solitary confinement of detainees;
  • Independently investigate torture and ill-treatment at the GID;
  • Ensure that detainees are able to meet privately with their lawyers.

    5. Women's rights

Women's rights are another area of concern in need of monitoring Jordan's compliance with international human rights standards.

Jordan has sought with limited success to amend domestic legislation in line with it obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), to which it acceded in 1992. Two days before the UN was due to review Jordan's compliance with CEDAW in July 2007; Jordan published the convention in the Official Gazette, giving it the force of domestic law.
Jordan nevertheless maintained three harmful reservations to the treaty: depriving women of passing their nationality on to their children, restricting a woman's freedom of travel, and maintaining unequal marriage and divorce rights.

One area where changes to the law are necessary is the Personal Status Law. Parliament on May 3, 2003 and on June 27, 2004 had rejected proposed amendments entitling women to initiate divorce in cases where the wife states that she cannot emotionally continue married life, or where she fears that continuing the marriage would prevent her from fulfilling her religious duties. She then declares that she relinquishes all her marital rights and returns the dowry she received.

Another area were the law discriminates against women is the law of nationality. In Jordan, women, unlike men, cannot pass their nationality on to their children. The children of Jordanian women married to foreign men can thus not attain Jordanian nationality. Non-Jordanian men married to Jordanian women also cannot acquire Jordanian citizenship, whereas non-Jordanian women married to Jordanian men can.

Finally, the law of social security disadvantages women. The law provides that only men, not women, can pass on their social security or pension as inheritance to their children.

Jordan has yet to make a reality of women's rights and honor its obligations under international law. Recently, the government established a long-needed shelter for women who are victims of domestic violence. At the same time, the government has failed to issue executive regulations for a March 2008 law on the protection of women from domestic violence, leaving its implementation unclear. This law also requires the establishment of committees responsible for reconciliation between family members.

Women's groups form a large and integral part of Jordan's civil society. The restrictions imposed by the new laws on assembly and association discussed above, will make it exceedingly difficult if not impossible to further women's human rights in the kingdom.

The European Union and member states should strongly urge the government of Jordan to:

  • Withdraw its reservations on CEDAW and accede to the Convention's Optional Protocol;
  • Review existing legislation and amend as necessary to ensure equality between men and women, in particular discriminatory provisions in the marriage and divorce, nationality, social security and civil retirement laws.
  • Issue executive regulations for the law for protection from domestic violence, and establish the family reconciliation committees.