In November 2018, Jordan’s human rights record will be reviewed before the UN Human Rights Council during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR process sets out “to prompt, support, and expand the promotion and protection of human rights on the ground” by assessing the human rights situation in each of the UN Member States every four and a half years.
On March 29, 2018, ahead of Jordan’s third UPR, Alkarama submitted its shadow report, in which it stressed that the human rights situation in Jordan had not improved since the country’s second UPR in 2013. Despite the adoption of a Comprehensive National Plan on Human Rights, a number of pressing issues remain, including the practice of torture aggravated by insufficient legal safeguards, abusive counter-terrorism measures, and the use of repressive legislation to stifle the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
The practice of torture
Jordan still lacks a comprehensive legal framework to tackle the issue of torture. While amendments to the Penal Code introduced in 2014 brought the definition of torture into line with the Convention against Torture (UNCAT), the criminalisation of torture still falls short of international standards. In particular, torture is only considered a misdemeanour under the current Penal Code unless it results in serious injury, meaning that punishments are not commensurate with the gravity of the crime, and that the offence is subject to statutes of limitations.
Moreover, impunity prevails as acts of torture remain unpunished due to both a lack of efficient complaint mechanisms and the absence of prosecution of perpetrators. On the rare occasions in which cases of torture involving members of the Public Security Directorate (PSD) and the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) are brought to court, these cases continue to be handled by special courts, whose proceedings are neither independent nor transparent.
Insufficient legal safeguards
Under Jordanian law, anyone who is arrested must be brought before a judicial authority within 24 hours. However, in practice, this time limit is frequently exceeded. Furthermore, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) does not grant suspects the right to see a lawyer from the moment of the arrest, nor does it explicitly mention the right of arrestees to contact their family.
Equally concerning is the fact that local governors continue to use provisions of the Crime Prevention Law of 1954 during the reporting period to place individuals in administrative detention for up to one year, effectively depriving them of their rights enshrined in the CCP.
Human rights and counter-terrorism
Alkarama’s report highlighted Jordan’s broad legal definition of terrorism contained in the Anti-Terrorism Law of 2006 and its 2014 amendments, under which acts that “cause disorder by disturbing the public order” or disturb “relations with a foreign country” can be considered acts of terrorism.
Furthermore, individuals suspected of committing a crime that falls under the jurisdiction of the State Security Court (SSC), including terrorism, can be kept in custody by the GID for a period of seven days before being brought before the prosecutor, who can then order a further detention period of 15 days, renewable for the “purpose of the investigation”. This period should not exceed two months, but Alkarama has documented cases in which the deadline was exceeded by two months.
Within this framework, human rights violations have been perpetrated primarily by the GID – the director of which is appointed by the king and reports to the prime minister – and by the SSC. Following their arrests by the GID, suspects are taken to the GID headquarters, where they are detained incommunicado without the possibility to contact their family or lawyer, placing them outside the protection of the law and depriving them of any legal safeguards. Torture is used systematically as a means to extract confessions, which are used by the SSC prosecutor both to charge the suspect and as incriminating evidence during trials before the SSC. Alkarama's report recommended that the SSC be abolished due to its lack of independence.
Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly
Freedom of expression in Jordan is restricted by a number of pieces of legislation including the Anti-Terrorism Law. On that basis, the authorities have arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned and, in some cases, tortured critics and activists under terrorism charges including disturbing “the public order” or “relations with a foreign country”.
Individuals have also been brought before the SSC on charges of encouraging “the contestation of the political system” or aiming “at changing the fundamental structure of society”. Such charges are often coupled with crimes of lèse-majesté including “insult to the king”, which is punishable by one to three years of imprisonment.
With regard to freedom of association, Alkarama drew particular attention to the amendments proposed by the Social Development Ministry in 2016 to the Law on Societies, which would grant the government broad discretion to prohibit the establishment of organisations whose objectives violate, among other things, “national security, public safety, public order, public morals”.
Finally, Alkarama noted that, although the holding of a demonstration does not require prior written authorisation, the authorities actively circumvent the right to peaceful assembly by invoking the Crime Prevention Law or the Anti-Terrorism Law to arrest and prosecute peaceful protesters before the SSC. Another concerning trend is the practice of arresting and forcing individuals to sign pledges not to engage in demonstrations. This was the case of Mahdi Suleiman, who was arrested in front of the Israeli Embassy in Amman while peacefully protesting the detention of his son in Israel.
Lack of implementation of previous recommendations
Alkarama notes with regret that the aforementioned concerns had already been raised by a number of states during the second UPR in 2013. In light of the striking absence of progress with regard to the implementation of these recommendations, Alkarama calls on UN Member States to reiterate these recommendations during the November 2018 review.
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