Jordan: Word Received of Oppressive Law Proposed by Prime Minister's Office

11 September 2002

Sources in Jordan have sent an alert to the world civil society community that the legislative bureau of the Jordanian Prime Minster’s Office is drafting a measure to control numerous organizations registered with the Ministry of Social Development.

Entitled the “Voluntary Organizations (Societies) Law,” the measure is intended to be issued by the Cabinet of Ministers as a “temporary law” or decree, in the absence of a functioning Parliament (suspended in 2001, with elections only in spring 2003). Such “temporary laws” are permitted by the Jordanian constitution only in cases of emergency, a condition it seems would be inapplicable in the case of Jordanian NGOs.

The following include some of the aspects of principal concern:

  • Sources advise that the proposed “law” will require ministerial approval for virtually all essential actions of an organization, including registration, developing a charter and amendments to the charter, financial audits, and annual reports.
  • The “law” requires that a voluntary society have a minimum of 50 members, and that it be prohibited from seeking political goals. This large minimum membership requirement is inconsistent with international good practice, and it would eliminate many very effective Bedouin and other local organizations presently performing valuable services. Furthermore, the definition of “political” is uncertain. Jordanian NGO leaders fear that the prohibition may well preclude any activity that might affect public policy formulation on matters of concern to the public, such as women’s issues and environmental concerns.
  • The “law” would require minimum capitalization of 50,000 Dinars (or about $70,000 US) to establish a voluntary society. This amount is prohibitively high, and would foreclose the very existence of most active organizations, especially in the countryside.
  • The “law” would also severely limit the rights of organizations to choose their own leadership – for example, it forbids a director from election to more than two terms of office.
  • Finally, and of great importance, the “law” would be applicable to all voluntary societies already established, which would have one year to come within its terms.

It is clear that, if enacted, the Jordanian proposal will represent a significant step backward in the recognition of basic and internationally accepted rights of association and freedom of expression. Moreover, it will place the Kingdom of Jordan among those countries that have chosen to stifle rather than to encourage the growth of a vibrant civil society that would contribute to the nation’s health and development. The proposal will serve to reinforce a view of the Middle East region as characterized by repressive and backward regimes, which restrict the welfare of their citizens, especially the poor and underprivileged, who are now served by many current voluntary societies. Indeed, the proposed legislation in Jordan is out of step with more progressive developments in other countries in the region, such as Palestine and Yemen. Both countries have in adopted legislation in recent years that is more consistent with international human rights standards regarding the freedom of association.

The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) strongly urges the world civil society community, as well as the community of nations and multinational organizations, to make known to the Government of Jordan their disapproval of this proposed action. Furthermore, ICNL stands ready, with the support of other like-minded organizations, to provide technical support and counsel to both the civil society sector and the Government of Jordan to assist in development of a sound legal framework to provide the safe legal space for the voluntary sector to thrive and serve the people of Jordan effectively and freely.

Stephan Klingelhofer, President
Leon Irish, Temple University, ICNL Co-founder and President Emeritus
Karla Simon, Catholic University of America, ICNL Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law