Restrictive laws revoked: the Monitor speaks with a Jordanian labour rights activist

Based on information from CIVICUS Monitor research partner the Arab Network for NGO Development, this update details two key legal improvements which have been welcomed by Jordanian civil society. These improvements in legal protections for workers and women have been heralded as a step forward for expanding civic freedoms in Jordan. It is also the result of diligent campaigning by national civil society groups. This update includes more information on the new laws and an interview with a civil society organisation (CSO) working to improve labour rights, the Phenix Centre

Association

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, workers' rights have been a key point of contention in Jordanian society. Restrictive draft proposals in Penal Code Article 183 were considered a potential obstacle to the efficacy of trade unions in Jordan and would effectively ban sit-ins and labour strikes. Given the high unemployment in Jordan, the proposed laws were broadly viewed as an infringement on the right to freedom of association. 

In response to the proposed laws, the Jordanian trade union movement and other civil society groups pressured the authorities to rescind the amendments. On 2nd August 2017, the authorities responded by revoking the proposals. In a statement, two CSOs commented on what would have been the consequences for civic freedoms, should the proposals had been enacted. The Phenix Centre for Economic and Informatics Studies and Jordan Labour Watch stated: 

“If enacted, these amendments to the Penal Code would deprive large segments of Jordan’s population of their fundamental human rights, and bring about dire socioeconomic consequences. The rights to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and the right to strike are all closely interlinked. If the purpose of social, political and economic reform is to broaden the array of rights enjoyed by citizens, these amendments would undeniably represent a step back in the country’s development”.

The General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions also welcomed the decision to scrap the unjustified law. 

To learn more about the situation for workers' rights and the trade union movement in Jordan, the CIVICUS Monitor recently spoke to Mr. Ahmad Awad, a prominent Jordanian human rights defender who is also the Director of the Phenix Centre for Informatics and Economics Studies. The Phenix Centre is an independent think tank focusing on policy analysis and developing alternative policies to build a sustainable developmental model based on democratic principles and human rights in Jordan and in the Arab region. 

*The audio interview below has been edited for length.*  

In another development, on 1st August 2017 women's rights groups welcomed parliament's decision to abolish a law that permitted rapists to avoid prosecution if they married their victims. The law in question, Penal Code Article 308, had become emblematic of the struggle for women's rights in Jordanian society, and the subject of a prolonged civil society campaign calling for its repeal. A local CSO, Sisterhood Is Global Institute Jordan commented on the decision in a statement, calling it a: 

"Victory for the rule of law, ending the practice that allowed men to get away with punishments in cases of sexual assault”.

International civil society groups also welcomed the positive step to end impunity in the country. Similar laws exist in Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, so many women's rights groups hope that abolishing the law will help end impunity for rapists in other countries across the region. 

Expression

Despite the recent legal improvements in Jordan, groups advocating on socially progressive issues still face restrictions from the authorities. For example, the outspoken Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila, known for their endorsement of gender equality and sexual freedom, was banned from performing in Amman. While their concert was originally scheduled on 27th June 2017, Interior Minister Ghaleb Zuabi claimed that by prohibiting the performance, the state will avoid:

"...the exploitation of such performances for the implementation of certain agendas that may lead to internal disagreements". 

Many supporters of the band believe that the ban was unwarranted and primarily motivated by the fact that Mashrou' Leila's lead singer openly identifies as homosexual. This is the second year in a row that the band has been banned from performing in Jordan. After receiving messages of support from Jordanian fans, the group released a video on Facebook - which can be viewed below - decrying the unjustified ban.