Human Rights Watch commends Jordan for Justice Sector Reforms

Liza Tumen

On October 4, 2017, Human Rights Watch published an article commending Jordan for justice sector reforms. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director, said, “After years of promising reforms Jordan is finally delivering real change on important issues.” This announcement comes after the passing of the Law on Rights for Persons with Disabilities, the repeal of article 308 and amendment of article 98 in the 1960 penal code, and changes to criminal procedure law.

In 2016 the Royal Committee for Developing the Judiciary and Enhancing Rule of Law, set up by HE King Abdullah II, produced a 282-page document of recommendations for justice reform. In 2017, the parliament began taking action to implement these changes, the first of which amended legal code pertaining to persons with disabilities.

Law 20 of 2017, the Law of the Rights of Persons and Disabilities was amended to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and to encourage their increased participation in society and the workforce.  The new law broadens the definition of disabilities and includes temporary disabilities. It redefines discrimination as, “constraint, exclusion, restriction, cancellation, or denial either direct or indirect…and refusal to provide reasonable accommodation.” Moreover, it lays out fines and jail time for any person who violates the law in an act of denial, deprivation or violence against a person with disabilities, in addition to refusal to employ a person solely based on their disability. Law 20 moves Jordan’s Law of the Rights of Persons and Disabilities in line with international standards of ensuring equality and freedom for people with disabilities.

In regard to women’s rights, the Jordanian parliament took actions to address sexual and gender based violence. Most notably, they repealed article 308 of the 1960 penal code, which stated a man could avoid punishment by marrying his rape victim. Lawmakers also amended article 98, which previously outlined “mitigating circumstances” in which a man could be acquitted of an honor crime if he claimed “severe rage.” 

Criminal justice reforms were also carried out, as parliament passed laws to amend criminal procedure. This includes the right to a lawyer and limited and alternative pretrial detention. Parliament also moved to implement a legal aid fund which would benefit those who cannot afford a lawyer.

Although these changes are to be praised, they should only be the start of necessary reform to the Jordanian justice sector. In addition to increased legal action, the written word must be translated into actionable difference on the ground with law enforcement held accountable for upholding the law. Moreover, a society that remains unaware or apathetic to reforms requires access to information and increased civil and political participation.

In line with its mission, ARDD works to ensure access to justice, spread information, and build capacity of people to demand their rights. ARDD is specifically focused on revitalizing the Arab Renaissance: awakening youth participation and interest in political and social justice issues.

Recently, ARDD implemented “Enhancing Public Support of Justice Reform Sector in Jordan,” a multi-level project supported by the European Union to engage key stakeholders and the public in ongoing justice sector reform.  The project includes a media outreach campaign supplemented with ongoing research and a community dialogue series. These initiatives will work to hold lawmakers and the public accountable, reach groups and individuals through various media platforms, and overall foster an engaged and informed society which can participate in creating and upholding justice reforms, human rights, and equality.

To see the full Human Rights Watch article, follow this link: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/10/04/jordan-parliament-passes-human-rights-reforms 

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