Jordan king's 'sincere efforts' fail to impress

Jordan is facing scrutiny at the UN Human Rights Council this morning under the periodic review system. Today's review is more important than usual because Jordan (like Saudi Arabia) is also seeking election next month as a member of the council.

Ahead of the review session, Jordan has submitted a self-congratulatory progress report which ends by saying:

"The sincere efforts being made to consolidate the human rights system in Jordan reflects [sic] the content of the discussion papers that were presented by His Majesty the King. These papers provide the basis for the national political reform project, which has support at the highest level of decision-making in the State and which focuses on political and civil rights. 

"In this way, Jordan joins the ranks of international actors that lend their support to these rights, whether by consolidating gains or developing rights still further. This all adds to the prestige of the state and its citizens among nations and peoples."

Regular readers of this blog will recall that one of the king's discussion papers – issued last June and calling for "active citizenship" and "political engagement across society" – coincided with government orders to block several hundred "unlicensed" Jordanian websites.

By the start of this morning's Human Rights Council session, half a dozen countries had tabled questions for Jordan (here and 
here), with Britain, Norway and the Netherlands expressing concern about freedom of expression.

Norway points out that during a previous review in 2009 Jordan agreed to "take further steps to promote an open and free press where journalists may report on a full spectrum of political, social and economic issues without fear of retribution". Since then, however, Norway says there has been "an undesirable trend" with regard to freedom of expression and it asks: "What will the government of Jordan do to implement the recommendations from 2009?"

Other questions for the Jordanian authorities include the use of military courts, rights of migrant workers, laws permitting gender discrimination, investigation of torture claims and the protection of those at risk from "honour" crimes.

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch has highlighted four "key concerns" besides freedom of expression in Jordan. These are:

  • Failure to reform the 2009 associations law, which gives the government the authority to intrude on the internal activities of nongovernmental organisations. 

  • Near-total impunity for torture and ill-treatment, and a flawed system for authorities to prosecute such crimes. 

  • Use of administrative detention to circumvent due process rights mandated by the Criminal Procedure Law, including the rights to be charged and to be given a fair trial. 

  • Poor enforcement of laws and regulations that protect the rights of migrant domestic workers, sometimes leading the workers to forfeit their rights, such as to unpaid salaries, in exchange for the ability to return home. 

Posted by Brian Whitaker
Thursday, 24 October 2013