His Excellency Dr. Fayez al-Tarawneh

Prime Minister

Amman

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

 

Your Excellency,

Greetings on the start of Ramadan.

Human Rights Watch is writing to express our deep concerns regarding the cabinet’s recent rejection of foreign funding to a Jordanian nongovernmental organization (NGO).

On June 19, 2012, Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights, a registered Jordanian NGO, submitted a request for funding amounting to about US$350,000 (JOD 250,000) from four separate international donors:

  • The Open Society Foundations, an international foundation working to build vibrant and tolerant democracies with accountable governments;
  • The Foundation for the Future, an international foundation dedicated to promoting democracy and human rights in the Middle East through support for civil society, and on whose board of directors sits former Jordanian minister and senator, Dr. Kamel Abu Jaber;
  • Pro Victimis, a Swiss foundation supporting NGOs that works with the most disadvantaged populations receiving little attention; and
  • IREX, an international organization working to enhance quality education and independent media.

On June 27, the cabinet decided to reject funding from these organizations for Tamkeen, without providing a reason for its decision.

The 2008 law regulating NGOs for the first time gave government officials the authority to deny Jordanian NGOs permission to accept foreign funding. The cabinet’s recent decision is the first rejection under the law that has come to our attention. This rejection underlines our concerns about the potential abuse of government powers that this law authorizes in violation of the internationally protected right to freedom of association.

In June 2008, we wrote to then-Prime Minister Nader al-Dhahabi, pointing out that these measures targeted US and EU-financed domestic human rights NGOs, as well as foreign branches of international human rights and humanitarian NGOs and think-tanks -- groups that are among the most critical of government policies.

When amendments to the 2008 law were being discussed in early 2009, we reiterated our concern that “[t]he existing 2008 Law of Societies and the 2009 proposed amendments do not fully comply with [international] standards.” In our view, the proposed amendments would continue severe restrictions on foreign funding first introduced in the 2008 law. “The legality of how funds are used should be Jordan's concern, rather than the provenance of funds,” we wrote at the time.

Article 17.c.1 of the current law requires a Jordanian NGO seeking to receive foreign funding to notify the cabinet, listing the source, amount, and method of receipt of the funding, such as a bank transfer, as well as the purposes of its use and any special conditions placed on the funding. The cabinet has 30 days to reply, and need not give any reasons for rejecting a proposed grant or donation. The NGO can appeal a rejection to the Supreme Court of Justice.

In further comments to the then-Minister of Social Development Hala Latouf in July 2009, we stressed the need for the government to adequately justify its action within a defined legal framework that citizens can challenge in court.

The cabinet’s rejection of Tamkeen’s proposed funding illustrates the basis for our concerns regarding government overreach against critical NGOs.

The Open Society Foundations and IREX have offices in Jordan, and the Open Society Foundation and the Foundation for the Future have previously supported work by Tamkeen.

Tamkeen has embarked on groundbreaking work in Jordan, providing free legal advice to migrant workers in Jordan over the past four years, in particular Asian domestic workers and Egyptian agricultural workers. In 2010, Human Rights Watch partnered with Tamkeen in researching the extent to which Jordanian authorities had implemented new legal protections for domestic workers put in place between 2008 and 2010. We issued a joint report in September 2011, Domestic Plight: How Jordanian Law, Officials, Employers, and Recruiters Fail Abused Migrant Domestic Workers, praising Jordan for its leading role in the region in instituting legal protections for domestic workers, but criticizing the lack of enforcement and remaining legal protection gaps.

The findings of our report were reaffirmed in the US State Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report – Jordan, issued in June 2012. That report found that some domestic workers “are subjected to conditions of forced labor after arrival, including through such practices as unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, threats of imprisonment, and physical or sexual abuse.”

Considering Jordan’s official action, the report states that the government made “minimal efforts to protect victims of trafficking,” and that “police officials did not always view withholding passports and nonpayment of wages as indicators of human trafficking.” Furthermore, “[t]he government accomplished little to implement its national anti-trafficking action plan [and] also failed to enforce consistently its bylaws that provide standards for employing domestic workers and operating recruitment agencies.”

The foreign funds for Tamkeen were designated for projects aimed in part at alleviating protection gaps for migrant domestic workers, such as providing airfare for stranded domestic workers unable to return to their home countries. Other proposed activities included training Jordanian judges, lawyers, and security officials in applying Jordanian laws that protect workers, legal advice and representation and psychosocial support for migrant worker victims of human rights violations, facilitation of medical care for migrant workers, raising awareness about migrant worker rights, documenting migrant worker rights abuses, and setting up a website highlighting problems faced by migrant workers in Jordan.

These are legitimate activities that cannot be construed as compromising “public order or morals,” two conditions that article 17.b.1 of the 2008 NGO law lists for accepting foreign donations.

Your Excellency, we urge you to promptly lead the cabinet in revising the decision denying foreign funding to Tamkeen, in keeping with Jordan’s obligations to uphold the right to freedom of association, and to increase legislative and enforcement efforts to protect migrant worker rights in the kingdom.

Sincerely,

Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and Northern Africa Division

Human Rights Watch