HRW: Jordan is violating its citizens' rights

Rights group slams Amman’s decision to block NGO from receiving $350,000 in foreign grants for migrant legal aid.

Jordanian flag (photo credit: reuters)
Jordanian flag
(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 projects.
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.
Four 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.
Although the 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 projects.
“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 passports.
The grants would also have been used to help train Jordanian legal professionals, including judges, in applying laws to protect migrant workers.
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 abuse.”
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.