Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, honourable members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, for allowing me to address you today on the issue of the free trade agreement proposed between Canada and Jordan and on the issue of human rights therein.
I have worked on human rights issues in the Middle East for the past ten years and have been a researcher with Human Rights Watch for the past five and a half years, in which I have focused on Jordan among other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Yemen. I was last in Jordan a couple of months ago, in July and August, to investigate the human rights situation of domestic workers and to assess whether the changes that Jordan has put in law and in practice to regulate that sector have had any positive effect.
Before I turn to labour issues, however, allow me a few brief words on the human rights situation in general in Jordan with respect to the administration of justice and to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
King Abdullah in November 2009 dissolved Parliament by decree and ordered that new elections be held within a year. They are now scheduled to be held in two weeks' time. Since the dissolution of Parliament, the government has ruled by decree and has issued a raft of new laws, including laws on the independence of the judiciary. This new law and attendant regulations have sparked opposition by quite a large number of judges--over 100, I believe--who say that the independence has been further curtailed.
In Jordan the legal profession has long complained about the administrative and financial powers that the Ministry of Justice holds over the judicial profession. In Jordan the Minister of Justice recommends candidates for the position of judge before the supreme judicial council nominates them. The king then has to endorse the nomination by decree.
Another aspect of concern in the administration of justice in Jordan is the position of prosecutors. They fall under the Ministry of Justice, but it is prosecutors and not independent judges who issue arrest and detention warrants, which are not reviewed by an independent judicial tribunal. These are valid for 15 days, and are renewable for up to two months before any judge takes a look at them.
In Jordan there are also a number of special courts. Most prominent among them is the state security court, where two-thirds of judges are military judges and where a military prosecutor prosecutes cases. This court has jurisdiction over a large number of internal security matters but also over cases such as those involving corruption.
In my experience over the past five and a half years, I have come across a number of cases in which prosecutors issued arrest and detention warrants without reviewing evidence very closely, often solely on the basis of complaints filed by citizens or other persons.
Jordan furthermore has imprisonment for debt, in violation of international law. Jordan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 11 of which prohibits imprisonment for debt.
In March 2009 Jordan became one of the first countries in the region to issue a law against trafficking in persons. Commendably, this new law takes on the international definition of trafficking in persons, which includes forced labour. We'll turn later to how that is working.
Furthermore, in Jordan there exists administrative detention--that is, detention ordered by a Ministry of Interior official, the local governor--without any judicial review, for an unspecified amount of time.
Regarding freedom of expression, association, and assembly, in 2007 Jordan updated its present publications law, saying that it had done away with imprisonment for journalists. While that is true, the Jordanian penal code retains a whole host of articles that violate and criminalize free speech, including insulting the king, committing lèse-majesté, or disparaging the reputation of government institutions such as Parliament, a ministry, or its members.
In 2010, furthermore, just in late August, Jordan issued a law on the Internet, which extends all these penal code provisions to anything a person might express on the Internet.
In 2008 Jordan slightly updated its law on public assemblies. The main point of criticism is that it is the governor who retains absolute discretion as to whether to allow or to permit a public assembly, including routine meetings of non-governmental organizations that may want to rent a hotel room to discuss, let's say, election monitoring. The governor has routinely denied permission for such meetings to take place.
In 2009 Jordan slightly updated a 2008 law on non-governmental organizations, which is to a large extent the same as the old 1966 law. This law continues to give Jordanian authorities wide discretion regarding the registration of non-governmental organizations and in some cases also their dissolution. This is done by government decree and not by an independent court. Furthermore, in 2009 for the first time, NGOs seeking financing from foreign parties must seek government approval from the prime minister beforehand.
In 2008, as my colleague mentioned, Jordan updated its labour law. I believe foreigners are now allowed to join unions. However, they do not have voting rights, and they may not therefore vote in favour of a strike. The major improvement of the 2008 amendment to the labour law was the inclusion of domestic workers, which, in a first for the region as a whole, now fell under the umbrella of the labour law. However, the labour protections granted to domestic workers fell far short of those granted to other workers in other sectors. For example, Jordanian employers of mostly Asian domestic workers, almost all of whom are women, may legally confine them to the house and restrict their freedom of movement. Furthermore, as my colleague also mentioned, working hours are much longer than in other sectors, with no limit on overtime.
I want to bring to your attention a couple of cases that happened recently this year. For example, in May there was a small protest at a meeting where the Minister of Agriculture spoke by so-called day labourers employed by the ministry, protesting that a number of their colleagues had recently been fired. These were labourers who had worked for many years for the Ministry of Labour but had never been granted the status of government employees. The person who led these small non-violent protests was later charged at the state security court for an unlawful gathering and sentenced to prison. Also in May of this year, a university student, Hatim al-Shuli, was, by the prosecution, said to have written a poem published on his own Internet site that was said to have insulted the king. He was detained for 90 days and prosecuted for insulting the king. The prosecution remains current right now. Just last week, there was an incident ahead of the current election campaign where some people who called on Jordanians not to participate in the elections, believing them not to be free, were arrested by the government for expressing their views in public and gathering in a small non-violent protest outside of the prime ministry.
I have had opportunity to briefly look at the labour provisions in the free trade agreement under consideration, and I believe the inclusion of the ILO standards is an important step, but our observations are that these would have better been integrated fully into the agreement, not as a side agreement, to make sure that labour infractions and commercial infractions receive the same weight. Furthermore, as my colleague already noted, Jordan is not quite there yet in terms of respecting all of these ILO agreements and standards. It would have perhaps been wiser to think of a process of incentivizing Jordan to comply with them in return for gaining free trade status.
I would urge members of the committee to consider violations and restrictions in Jordanian law and practice of freedom of expression and association as part and parcel of such labour agreements as they may indeed constitute a trade barrier. My colleague has already alluded to the qualified industrial zones. This is where we receive the most complaints from migrant workers. There are complaints about abuse, physical abuse, non-payment of labour, long working hours, and confinement. The Ministry of Labour inspection service has indeed improved a little bit over the past few years, largely with U.S. technical and financial support, but at least in the domestic worker sector that I recently investigated, this has not yet borne fruit.
To conclude, I think the free trade agreement provisions regarding labour have the potential to improve labour conditions if Jordan were to fully implement them. I urge the committee to give consideration to providing equal weight to labour issues compared to commercial issues; move to an incentive on how to move Jordan toward compliance; make sure there's an individual complaints mechanism in that provision; and pay particular attention to the labour rights of migrant workers, and forced labour in particular.
Thank you very much.