Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1986

Jordan is a hereditary monarchy with a constitution granting
the King broad powers. The King forms and dissolves
governments and is the ultimate arbiter of policy. The Prime
Minister and the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), however,
exercise considerable responsibility over many issues. The
Constitution also provides for a bicameral parliament and an
independent judiciary.
Martial law has been in effect since the 1967 war which ended
with Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Under martial law,
some detained persons have been denied opportunity to
communicate with concerned individuals for varying periods,
usually not exceeding several months. Generally, however,
martial law has not much affected the civil rights of
Jordan has a mixed economy with government participation in
certain sectors, largely in transportation and heavy
industry. The Government of Prime Minister Zaid Rifa'i,
formed in April 1985, has taken a number of steps to promote
free enterprise. Declining foreign assistance, a weak
regional economy, and other external economic factors have
caused Jordan's healthy economic growth of the past decade to
level off in recent years. While the economic adjustment has
been difficult, Jordan's economic managers have sought to
minimize its impact on the population.
Riots at Yarmouk University and sporadic crackdowns on the
press marred an otherwise unchanged human rights situation in
1986. The absence of political parties, the continuance of
martial law, and the scope of powers exercised by the police
are areas of concern, but recent trends remain favorable. The
increased opportunities for women in all areas of life, the
continued importance given to the rule of law and an
independent judiciary, and the gradual evolution of the
Parliament (including recent byelections) , have contributed to
an improving human rights picture.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
The Government does not sanction political killing. While
there have been political killings by nongovernment groups in
the past, there were none in 1986.
There were no summary executions. Some Palestinians/West
Bankers have been sentenced to death based on a Jordanian law
permitting trials in absentia for selling West Bank land to
Israelis, but these sentences have never been carried out.
b. Disappearance
No disappearances were reported.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
There is no evidence that the Government condones or practices
torture, although there have been reports of ill-treatment of
detainees by police. Jordanian law provides for the decent
treatment of prisoners, and judicial authorities have been
known to dismiss cases based on the apparent mistreatment of
prisoners. In May 1985, the Director of Public Security
established a special office to handle any public complaints
of abuse by security officers and promised to punish offenders.
A new prison (Juweideh prison) has been constructed and opened.
Inmates of the old prison in Amman have been transferred to the
new facility, and the Government plans to close the old prison.
Prison conditions are Spartan by Western standards but not
intentionally degrading. They are inspected by the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Although Jordan has been under martial law since 1967, most
persons are placed in custody by Jordanian authorities in
accordance with the criminal code which requires imposition of
charges within 48 hours. Persons may then be detained pending
trial for 15 days, or longer if a court approves the
prosecution's request for an extension. The criminal code is
generally applied to persons arrested for designated martial
law crimes, which include espionage, bribery of public
officials, trafficking in narcotics or weapons, black
marketeering, and security offenses. In the past, security
forces have apparently detained incommunicado (or with limited
outside access) some persons suspected of cross-border
infiltration and security crimes. The General Intelligence
Department (GID) can detain a person without trial for varying
periods. However, under martial law provisions, such arrests
should be confirmed within a maximum of 15 days by the Prime
Minister or by local administrators serving as local military
governors. Security detainees can be held without charges for
indeterminate periods or can be formally charged and brought
before the martial court for trial.
Military prosecutors known to have conducted improper arrests
and detentions have been disciplined and transferred to
positions of lesser responsibility. A petition for judicial
review of the legality of the arrest of any detained person
may be brought before the High Court of Justice, but is
unlikely to be granted for those accused of security offenses.
On May 15, demonstrations at Yarmouk University, prompted by
student dissatisfaction, developed into riots when security
forces intervened. Three individuals were killed in the
ensuing violence. Numerous arrests followed, including the
arrest of all members of the Central Committee of the Jordanian
Communist Party. Demonstrations in protest against the U.S.
bombing of Libya also took place before the U.S. Embassy.
Participants were subsequently arrested. Nevertheless, it does
not appear that arrests for security reasons increased
appreciably, if at all, in 1986.
Compulsory labor is forbidden by the Constitution and is not
practiced. There are no instances of exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
All criminal cases, except martial law crimes and crimes
committed by military personnel, are tried in civilian courts.
The legal code and the independent selection of judges help to
assure a fair trial. Trials are held in open court, except in
a few cases such as those involving sexual offenses.
Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have
the right to be represented by counsel, to prepare a defense.
to cross-examine witnesses, and to refrain from giving
self-incriminating testimony. The court appoints a lawyer for
those who cannot afford one if the potential sentence is
execution or life imprisonment. An effective appeals process
may be utilized by either the defendant or the prosecution.
Death sentences are seldom imposed.
Civilian judges must demonstrate legal competence in written
and oral examinations before selection by a board composed of
three judges, the Chief Attorney General, and the
Undersecretary of the Justice Ministry. Judges may be removed
from office only after serious transgressions of the law, i.e.,
"bad conduct", and after a disciplinary board hearing. The
disciplinary board is, in fact, the judicial council, composed
of the first Chief, Court of Cassation, for all Jordan; second
Chief, Court of Cassation for all Jordan; Chief, Court of
Cassation for Amman; Chief, Court of Cassation for Irbid;
Chief Prosecutor for Jordan; and a Judicial inspector
(appointed by the Council itself). When a judge is brought
before the Judicial council for alleged misconduct, the Council
hears the matter, examines the defendant judge, and imposes a
penalty — which can range from actual removal to the imposition
of fines.
The Government is reportedly establishing a judicial training
institute. Apparently, very few people apply to become judges
because of low pay and status, and the quality of the lower
ranks of the judiciary is generally regarded as poor.
Martial law crimes are adjudicated in a military court before
a panel of three military officers trained in the law. In
practice, the military court observes the law of criminal
procedure, and defendants are given the same rights as in a
civilian court. However, the very quick trials and subsequent
sentencings of Communists in May suggest that there are
exceptions to this norm. No right of appeal exists from
decisions of the military court; however, sentences of the
court for martial law offenses must be ratified by the Prime
Minister in his capacity as Military Governor. He has
authority to increase, reduce, or annul the sentences. The
cases are reviewed for fairness by a legal advisor or the
Justice Minister before the Prime Minister makes a decision.
The military court also adjudicates all crimes committed by
military personnel. In these cases, the Commander in Chief of
the Armed Forces must ratify the sentences.
Religious courts have jurisdiction over most family matters,
such as marriage, divorce, child custody, or guardianship.
The Shari'a (Muslim religious law) applies to Muslims in these
areas, and a Shari'a court system handles disputes.
Ecclesiastical courts handle similar matters for members of
the main Christian sects. The civil courts administer the
cases of other religious groups. Shari'a law, however, must
be applied to questions of inheritance for all communities.
There have been reports of the detention of persons for
political reasons under the martial law regime, but there are
no reliable estimates of the numbers.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The inviolability of the home is respected. Police searches of
homes require warrants except in rare cases involving security
or the hot pursuit of fleeing suspects. It is believed that
security personnel sometimes monitor telephones and
correspondence, but the practice is evidently not widespread.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution safeguards the freedoms of speech and press
but permits limited media constraints under martial law.
Jordanians freely express wide-ranging opinions, including
criticism of the Government, in informal settings. Public
debate is less pronounced but still notable in the state-owned
radio and television networks, and the privately owned (but
government- influenced) press, where a form of self-censorship
persists. The Government provides editors with guidance
occasionally on key foreign policy and security matters. On
most other issues, government interference is minimal and
critical commentary is tolerated. However, in mid-1986
several journalists had their accreditation lifted for a brief
period because of their criticism of the Government for its
handling of the Yarmouk incident and Irbid byelections. At
the time, there were reports that some 20 journalists of both
local and foreign papers had been barred from writing and
publishing. Western correspondents and resident Western
writers have occasionally expressed concern over government
interference with freedom of the press, and some local editors
reportedly have complained that they are prevented from
covering stories considered "sensitive" by the Government. In
September and October, several journalists were barred from
publishing after making political comments during a television
interview outside Jordan, and a local cartoonist has been
warned against continuing to publish cartoons critical of the
Government or its policies. At present, government
interference and censorship do not appear to impede the free
flow of ideas and information. In the past, there have been
reports that members of the press have been placed under house
arrest or charged with membership in an illegal organization.
Currently all journalists must register with the Information
Ministry and join the Journalists Association.
Foreign newspapers and magazines are widely available, although
they are subject to occasional censorship.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Public demonstrations require a permit, rarely granted, from
the Interior Minister. All organizations require government
approval and may not have political objectives. Government
surveillance of public meetings, university activities, and
organization gatherings is routine. Following the May 15
riots at Yarmouk University, there were numerous arrests, a
complete changeover in the University administration, and
removal of the Interior Minister during an otherwise minor
cabinet reshuffle.
Jordanians are free to join labor unions and professional
associations. These organizations require government licenses
which are usually granted without difficulty. Unions and
associations defend the interests of their members, and their
officers are elected by the membership. Unions engage in
collective bargaining. Strikes have been held in the past, but
none took place in 1986. Strikes are only permitted if the
Ministry of Labor fails to act to arbitrate a labor dispute
within 2 weeks after receiving a complaint from a union.
Strikes are not legal for government employees, who compose
about half of the labor force.
About 20 percent of the Jordanian work force is unionized.
Seventeen unions comprise the Jordan Federation of Trade
Unions ( JFTU) . Several other unions do not belong to the JFTU.
Unions have virtually no political role and confine themselves
to representing their membership in such areas as wages,
working conditions, and workers' layoffs. Their effectiveness
varies widely. The JFTU actively participates in international
organizations such as the International Labor Organization.
Professional associations for doctors, engineers, lawyers,
pharmacists, and similar professional groups operate freely.
They maintain influence with the Government in their respective
areas of interest.
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam, the state religion, is observed by well over 90 percent
of Jordanians. However, the constitutional guarantee of
freedom of worship is adhered to by the Government. There
appears to be little discrimination against religious
minorities, who are well represented at all levels in
government, the military, and the business community. Laws
making harassment of religious minorities a crime are enforced.
A variety of Christian groups, including Catholic, Orthodox,
Armenian, Protestant, and Seventh-Day Advent ist, maintain
churches, schools, hospitals, and other institutions. A small
Baha ' i community also exists. A few foreign clergymen reside
in Jordan. Although proselytizing among Muslims is forbidden,
conversion by Muslims is not a crime.
All religious groups must register with the authorities in
order to obtain official permission to operate in Jordan.
However, there are instances wherein denominations failed to
register but were nonetheless permitted to meet without
harassment .
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Movement within Jordan is unrestricted except in certain
military zones. With a few exceptions (primarily military
personnel and reservists who need permission for foreign
travel), the Government does not restrict emigration or
foreign travel. A woman must present the written consent of
her husband, father, or male guardian to obtain an initial
passport but thereafter may travel alone without restraint.
Citizens who have left Jordan have the right to return. There
are no reported cases of revocation of citizenship for
political reasons. Jordanian courts hold that assuming a
foreign nationality does not deprive a person of his Jordanian
citizenship. Some citizens returning to Jordan, particularly
those who have traveled to Communist countries, are questioned
by the General Intelligence Department regarding security
matters. The Ministry of the Interior formerly required
permits for travel by Jordanians to Syria, but this provision
was revoked in 1985-86. There are restrictions on travel to
the West Bank, but the Government has recently taken steps to
facilitate such travel.
Jordan has faced a long-term refugee problem from the influx
of Palestinians made homeless by the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli
wars. According to the most recent statistics, Palestinian
refugees and their descendants on the East Bank total about
1 million, including approximately 203,000 living in refugee
camps. The total includes refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli
war and does not include a large but undetermined number of
other persons from the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel
who have settled in the East Bank since 1948. Except for some
refugees from Gaza, all have been granted Jordanian citizenship
and have the unrestricted right to reside, work, and own
property. While Gazans do not have citizenship, in 1986 they
were granted for the first time the right to purchase land and
own property in Jordan. Gazans enjoy the right to work as
well. The Government now issues Jordanian passports to Gazans
resident on the East Bank who can prove they were displaced
prior to 1971. The Interior Minister routinely grants permits
for travel between the East Bank and Israeli-occupied
territories .
Jordan has granted asylum even in cases which have strained
relations with the neighboring states.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Executive and legislative powers are constitutionally vested in
the King, who rules with the assistance of an appointed Council
of Ministers. Parliament, reinstated by the King in 1984, is
composed of an appointed senate and an elected lower house. It
is overshadowed by the executive branch, but has the right to
ratify royal decrees and laws proposed by the Council of
Ministers. It is gaining in stature and functions with
increasing effectiveness.
The lower house still is composed largely of members elected
in the last national election of 1967, although since then
10 members for the East Bank have been elected directly and
14 members for the West Bank have been elected indirectly. A
full third of the 30 East Bank members were elected in
byelections in 1984 and 1986. Since 1972 general elections
have been deemed to be impossible because of continued Israeli
occupation of the West Bank. Vacant East Bank seats have been
filled through byelections which generally have been considered
fair and open. A new Electoral Law passed in 1986 provides for
expansion of lower house membership to 142 members and also
establishes distinct electoral districts on the East Bank which
will allot seats to refugee camps on the East Bank. Vacant
West Bank seats are currently filled by the vote of the other
members of Parliament. Parliament also has reserved seats for
Christians and Circassians.
Most municipal and town councils are elected by popular vote.
The person receiving the highest number of votes is
traditionally confirmed as mayor by the Minister for Municipal
Affairs and then by the Prime Minister. However, the next
session of Parliament is expected to consider legislation
providing for the direct election of mayors. Women were
enfranchised in 1973 and may also run for public office. King
Hussein appointed the first female cabinet minister in 1979 and
has continued to encourage the participation of women in the
political process.
Organized political parties are not permitted, although several
informal political groups operate openly. The Communist Party
is banned. All persons seek elected office as independents.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
Although in the past Jordan attracted little attention from
either private or international human rights organizations,
this is changing. In 1986 it received more attention and more
criticism. The Jordanian lawyers' professional association,
which has a human rights committee, continues to be relatively
active in this area. Other local organizations and ad hoc
groups also occasionally issue statements and petitions on
such human rights concerns as Palestinian rights and the ban
on political parties. The International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) maintains an office in Amman and its
representative regularly visits prisons and detention
facilities. He is allowed to meet all detainees in accordance
with standard ICRC criteria. Members of the royal family have
demonstrated interest in human rights. For example. Crown
Prince Hassan is cofounder of the independent Commission on
International Humanitarian Issues and chaired a 3-day seminar
sponsored by the Commission in December on human rights and
human welfare issues including refugees, famine, child abuse,
and "mass expulsion of population groups from national
homelands" .
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Women's role in society has been changing in recent years.
Women now account for half the student body at the elite
University of Jordan. At another educational level, a
vocational training center in Amman teaches women to repair
radios, televisions, and office machinery. Such changes in
educational patterns are similarly reflected in the work force.
Women today comprise about 20 percent of the labor force,
compared to 4 percent in 1975. Women participate generally in
subordinate positions and most heavily in clerical, teaching,
and administrative jobs. There has been a significant
increase in the number of women in such professions as
medicine, engineering, and architecture. However,
professional women and women's associations believe that more
remains to be done to increase female participation in these
areas. Women are also now officers in the police, and two
female Jordanian pilots fly for Royal Jordanian Airlines.
Women increasingly operate businesses. The Government
encourages women workers by requiring maternity leave and
child care centers at large establishments. However, these
regulations are not enforced strictly. Women appear to be
taking an increasingly active role in promoting their
professional and employment rights. A recent controversy over
a purported ban on the hiring of married teachers for rural
areas provoked an effective response from women's associations.
Equality between men and women is the legal norm. In practice,
however, certain traditions can constrain women's freedoms, and
the entry of women into professional and academic realms
previously the traditional preserve of men can spark resentment
and opposition.
In matters of inheritance and divorce, women are treated
differently. Under Islamic law, sons inherit twice as much as
daughters. However, the son is required to use his inheritance
for the maintenance of his mother and sisters, but a female is
free to retain her inheritance for herself. Likewise, a man
may obtain a divorce more easily than a woman, but he may be
required to pay considerable compensation based on the marriage
contract. A reformed divorce law increased compensation for
women suffering from an arbitrary divorce. Women may also gain
and retain custody of children until the children obtain their
legal majority, but they may lose custody if they remarry.
Jordan's workers are protected by a comprehensive labor code
enforced by inspectors of the Ministry of Labor. Children
under age 13 are not permitted to work. Children age 13 to 15
are allowed to work a maximum of 6 hours a day, but are
forbidden to work at night (except with special permission)
and in certain occupations regarded as dangerous. The
Government prepares and adjusts periodically a minimum wage
schedule for various trades based on recommendations of an
advisory panel composed of representatives of workers,
employers, and the Government. Maximum working hours are
48 hours per week, with the exception of hotel, bar,
restaurant, and movie theater employees who can work up to
54 hours. Workers are entitled to a weekly day of rest, rest
intervals during the work day, 2 weeks annual paid leave,
2 weeks annual sick leave, and severance pay. The law
specifies a number of health and safety requirements,
including bathrooms, drinking water, safety equipment, and
first aid equipment for workers. Jordan also has a worker's
compensation law. The Government appears to administer and
enforce its labor laws fairly.