(photo credit: reuters)
Human rights groups on Wednesday accused Jordan of clamping down on civil
society and violating citizens’ rights to freedom of association, after the
government decided to block hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign funding
to an Amman legal aid center.
US-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW)
described as “chilling” the decision by Jordan’s cabinet to use new laws on NGO
funding to disallow the Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights from
receiving $350,000 in grants for migrant worker legal aid
Tamkeen (“Empowerment”) is headquartered in Amman and provides
free legal aid to marginalized groups and victims of human rights abuses,
including migrant workers who make up around a quarter of Jordan’s workforce.
Tankeen’s director, Linda al-Kalash, who won the French Republic Human Rights
Prize in 2011, has frequently called on the Jordanian government to enforce laws
protecting foreign workers. They include Egyptian agricultural laborers and
domestic workers from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
foundations – the Open Society Foundations, the Foundation for the Future, Pro
Victimis and IREX have offered Tamkeen grants to fund projects advocating for
migrant workers’ rights.
However, before receiving the grants, Tamkeen
had to first apply to the Jordanian government for permission. Ever since Jordan
amended its NGO law in 2009, all organizations wishing to receive foreign
funding must first obtain cabinet approval, a stipulation that human rights
groups say does not comply with international standards.
cabinet has not explained to Tamkeen why the grants have been blocked, HRW noted
that under the amended law, the Jordanian cabinet is empowered to block foreign
donations for a list of reasons, including if the funding is for activities that
it deems compromise “public order or morals.”
Christoph Wilke, HRW’s
senior Middle East researcher, accused Jordan of trying to silence reform by
blocking Tamkeen from receiving grant funding for its migrant worker
“Jordan’s talk of greater transparency and reform can’t be
taken seriously if the government cuts off funding to effective civil society
groups,” Wilke said.
According to HRW, the blocked grants included
funding for projects to raise awareness about migrant worker rights including by
documenting human rights abuses.
Tamkeen has already highlighted the
plight of foreign workers in Jordan, and has said that many Asian domestic
workers are subjected to beatings and their employers confiscate their
The grants would also have been used to help train Jordanian
legal professionals, including judges, in applying laws to protect migrant
Although Jordan has tough laws to protect its foreign workers –
Amman has ratified major human rights conventions including those of the
International Labor Organization – Tamkeen has accused the country of doing
little to enforce them.
Wilke said that by cutting off funding to
Tamkeen, the Jordanian government is undermining the credibility of its own
efforts to fight human trafficking.
“Migrant workers are among the most
vulnerable people in Jordanian society, and Tamkeen has been a stalwart champion
of their rights,” Wilke added.
Last month, the US State Department’s 2012
Trafficking in Persons Report for Jordan revealed that some migrant 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
According to HRW, Tamkeen’s only recourse against the cabinet
refusal will be to file an appeal in Jordan’s Supreme Court. However, since this
is the first time that the government has used the amended NGO funding law to
block an organization from receiving foreign grant money, there is no legal
precedent for such an appeal.