What actions should be taken following Jordan’s third universal periodic review?
On November 12, 2018, the United Nations Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) adopted a draft report following the review of Jordan’s human rights record on November 8. The report contains 226 recommendations made by United Nations Member States to Jordan, related to issues 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.
These recommendations echo the concerns raised by Alkarama in its shadow report submitted on March 29, 2018, ahead of the review. Alkarama also stressed that the human rights situation in Jordan had not significantly improved since the country’s second UPR in 2013 despite the adoption of a Comprehensive National Plan on Human Rights in 2016.
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 order to remedy these shortcomings, several states recommended that Jordan modify the Penal Code so that torture is categorised as a serious crime with appropriate punishment.
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. Austria suggested that jurisdiction over all cases of torture be assigned to regular courts.
In the field of torture prevention, the Czech Republic and Sri Lanka called on Jordan to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which involves the creation of a National Preventive Mechanism (NPM).
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 to place individuals in administrative detention for extended period of time, effectively depriving them of their rights enshrined in the CCP. Four recommendations called for an end to this widespread practice or, at the very least, for stricter oversight.
Governors and the police frequently resort to administrative detention against prisoners whose sentences have expired, persons arrested on suspicion of a crime but to whom judges have granted bail, and persons who may have prior criminal convictions. Switzerland highlighted the need to ensure the detainees’ right to challenge the legality of their detention.
Human rights and counter-terrorism
Alkarama regrets that only one recommendation addressed the need to amend the Antiterrorism Law to bring it into line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as human rights continue to be systematically violated under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
The GID – which reports directly to the king – arbitrarily arrests and detains individuals, even those merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly. In numerous cases, peaceful activists and dissenting voices have been detained by the GID and prosecuted before the State Security Court (SSC) for allegedly disturbing either “the public order” or “relations with a foreign state.”
The SSC is a special court that severely lacks independence and impartiality. It has jurisdiction over a wide range of acts, some of which directly relate to the peaceful exercise of one’s right to freedom of opinion and expression. France recommended that Jordan “limit resorting to the State Security Court for criminal cases falling within the jurisdiction of other competent courts”.
Restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly
Freedom of expression is restricted by a number of pieces of legislation, including the Antiterrorism Law. On that basis, the authorities have arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned and, in some cases, tortured critics and activists under vague charges such as disturbing “the public order” or “relations with a foreign state”.
In January 2017, the government proposed to amend the Cybercrime Law in order to criminalise “hate speech”. The proposed changes came before the parliament in June 2018 and will be put to vote during the weeks to come. They broadly define the offense of hate speech and include severe penalties ranging from fines to prison terms. Civil society organisations fear that the proposals would have an adverse impact on the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression in the country.
In 2015, amendments had already been introduced punishing defamation online with a minimum of three months in prison, which had been used as a basis to arrest and detain a number of critics. Four states recommended that Jordan amend article 11 of the Cybercrime Law, and narrow or remove the definition of “hate speech” from the proposed amendments.
With regard to freedom of association, the government retains broad discretion to prohibit the establishment of organisations whose objectives violate “national security, public safety, public order, public morals”. Switzerland therefore called on Jordan to repeal the law on associations “in order to streamline the administrative processes which restrict the activities and the funding of civil society organizations”.
Finally, 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 Antiterrorism Law to arrest and prosecute peaceful protesters before the SSC. Sweden suggested the creation of an “independent bureau to receive complaints regarding meetings and gatherings that have been shut down without explanation.”
What is next?
Following the third UPR on Jordan, 95 recommendations reflecting most of the aforementioned issues were either noted or put on hold. Alkarama calls on Jordan to accept these recommendations ahead of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council. The authorities should then implement the agreed measures in good faith.
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