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(Beirut) – Jordan’s government is violating the right to freedom of association by denying, without explanation, a civil society organization permission to accept foreign funding, Human Rights Watch said today. The cabinet’s June 27, 2012 decision against Tamkeen, a Jordanian legal assistance group, is the first denial of foreign funding that has come to Human Rights Watch’s attention since the cabinet-level review provision became law in 2009.

Tamkeen has carried out groundbreaking work in Jordan over the past four years, providing free legal advice to migrant workers, in particular Asian domestic workers and Egyptian agricultural workers.

“Jordan’s talk of greater transparency and reform can’t be taken seriously if the government cuts off funding to effective civil society groups,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Jordan seems to be closely following other Middle Eastern countries in trying to silence voices for reform.”

In 2009, Jordan changed its law regulating nongovernmental organizations. The revised law makes it easier for groups to register, but increases the authority of officials to interfere in their work, including through a new clause requiring cabinet-level approval for foreign funding.

Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights Studies applied on June 19 for approval for US$350,000 of funding from four foreign foundations to carry out projects designed to help and advocate for the rights of migrant workers in Jordan. The organizations offering the grants are the Open Society Foundations, the Foundation for the Future, Pro Victimis, and IREX.

The cabinet did not provide a reason for denying the group permission to accept the funds and is not required to do so under article 17 of the 2008 Law of Societies, amended in 2009. Those affected by this refusal can only challenge the decision of the cabinet in the Supreme Court of Justice.

Human Rights Watch wrote on July 20 to Prime Minister Fayez al-Tarawneh, asking him to lead the cabinet in reversing the decision. The denial of permission without giving reasons to accept the grants underlines the concerns about the potential official abuse of the law to violate the internationally protected right to freedom of association, Human Rights Watch said.

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. A joint report in September 2011, “Domestic Plight: How Jordanian Law, Officials, Employers, and Recruiters Fail Abused Migrant Domestic Workers,” praised Jordan for its leading role in the region in instituting legal protections for domestic workers, but criticized the lack of enforcement and the remaining gaps in legal protection. The report found that some migrant domestic workers are subjected to forced labor and possible human trafficking.

The funds that the government denied to Tamkeen were for projects aimed in part at alleviating protection gaps for migrant domestic workers, such as providing air fare for stranded domestic workers unable to return to their home countries. Other proposed activities included training Jordanian judges, lawyers, and security officials to apply Jordanian laws that protect workers and providing legal advice, representation, and psychosocial support for migrant worker victims of human rights violations. The funds also would have been used to help migrant workers get medical care, to raise awareness about migrant worker rights, to document human rights abuses of migrant workers, and to establish a website highlighting problems faced by migrant workers in Jordan.

Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Jordan is a state party, guarantees the right to freedom of association and allows only for restrictions that exist in law and are necessary in a democratic society to protect public order, health, morals, national security, or the rights and freedoms of others. The broad language of article 17 of Jordan’s 2009 law conditioning approval of foreign funding on a group not compromising “public order or morals” is an invitation to official abuse, Human Rights Watch said.

“By cutting off funding to Tamkeen, Jordan undermines the credibility of its efforts to fight human trafficking,” Wilcke said. “Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable people in Jordanian society, and Tamkeen has been a stalwart champion of their rights.”

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