Position paper by Civil Society Organizations regarding the amendment of Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organizations Law
Civil Society Organizations express their absolute rejection of the Law by Decree concerning the amendment of Law No. 1 on Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organizations and its amendments published in the official Palestinian newspapers on 2nd/03/2021. This law by decree was issued within the framework of several ongoing laws by decree that are drafted in full secrecy and behind closed doors and came after the presidential decree on 15/01/2021, which calls for holding general elections (legislative, presidential and PNC) in the midst of the major and accelerating deterioration of the Palestinian political system as a whole. This is in spite of the fact that the Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organization’s Law No. 1 of 2000, which was ratified by the PLC as Palestinian law, is considered one of the advanced laws in the Arab region.
This law runs contradictory to the decisions made during the Cairo talks, which called for the launching of public freedoms and for preparing the internal climate for successful elections. Additionally, the law hinders the right of assembly and organization and the right to exercise activities independent of ministries and the executive authority. It also transfers CSOs to ministry branches, which will confiscate the roles of the boards of directors of these civil society organizations.
CSO’s, that have a long history in Palestine, view the amendment of the Charitable Associations and Civil Society Organizations Law as a vicious attack against CSOs, and coincides with the attack being waged by Israel the colonialist occupying authority and the Zionist institutions that support it inside and abroad. This attack is waged through various means, including death threats and attempts to undermine the reputation of CSO employees along with attempts to intimidate, threaten and undercut partner funding organizations, with the goal of halting funding to Palestinian institutions and hampering their abilities to defending Palestinian human rights in the face of Israel’s systematic war crimes, which fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC. They aim to undermine these institutions’ efforts within the course of international contractual and non-contractual mechanisms and in their battle against Israeli measures of settlement expansion, annexation and forced displacement in Jerusalem and in Area C. In spite of their attempts, these repeated efforts have failed so far in undermining the determination and resolve of Palestinian civil action and its virtuous message in defense of rights.
The grounds for issuing the law by decree, mentioned at the beginning, states that it was made based on recommendation by the Cabinet on 11/01/2021 and was issued by the President on 28/02/2021. That is, there a timespan of over a month and a half between its ratification and recommendation by the Cabinet and between it being issued by the President. No statement was made by the Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Dr. Shtayeh or by the government that would indicate to the existence of such a law by decree, which remained in complete secrecy until it was issued and published in the official newspaper. This shows a clear intention by the government to target CSOs and obliterate whatever is left of the political system given people’s preoccupation with the election process following the presidential decree in this regard.
Furthermore, the law by decree targeted the amendment to Article 13 of the original law regarding the certified administrative and financial reports, which the associations present to the relevant ministry by a date no more than four months from the end of the fiscal year. It added a new provision to the text that obliges associations to present to the relevant ministries an “annual action plan and estimated budget for the new fiscal year in line with the ministry’s plan.” This means that CSOs will be working for the said ministry and not in accordance with its own vision, mission, goals or programs. In other words, it deals with CSOs as government departments under ministries and which must take orders from them, even though these ministries do not have any published plan and have never discussed with CSOs any plan in this regard. This undermines the professionalism, independence and freedom of civic activity, including its monitoring role over the performance of the executive authority and its objective to hold this authority accountable for its violations.
The amendment also stipulates that employee salaries and running costs of any said association or commission cannot exceed 25% of the overall annual budget. This means that the executive authority is now in control of CSO budgets and their provisions, how they are distributed, their ceiling within the overall budget and the amount of expenses. This will result in civic work becoming more like contracting and commercial projects, aimed at stripping them of their national, rights-oriented core and open the door wide open to placing Palestinian civic work under the guardianship of Israeli and international institutions working in the occupied territory. Furthermore, the provisions of the law by decree, which granted the government the power to issue regulations on conditions for funding, revealed its attempts to override and dissolve CSOs, with the Ministry of Interior taking over this task and stripping its moveable and immovable funds and contacts to the general treasury in unconstitutional seizures.
The law by decree includes, in Article 6, which amended Article 40 of the Associations’ Law, a new provision (No 2), which stipulates that “The Cabinet shall issue a system in which it determines that fees to be paid by the association and CSO for any new applications submitted to the Ministry (Ministry of Interior), if they are not included in the fees mentioned in the law.” This amendment is also in violation of the Basic Law (constitution), particularly Article 88, which stipulates that “the imposition of general taxes and fines, their amendments or cancellation, will only be carried out by law…” Hence, constitutionally, it is not permitted to collect fees from CSO’s through a system created by the Cabinet.
The aforementioned law by decree violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20) and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22), which confirms the basic right of freedom of association, independence of activities and financial sources. It also violates several resolutions issued by the UN Human Rights Council, including Resolution (22/6) of 21/03/2013, which calls on states not to impede the functional independence of associations and not to impose restrictions on potential sources of funding in a discriminatory manner.
The right to freedom of association and civic action on occupied Palestinian land is a basic human right guaranteed by the Palestinian Basic Law (constitution) and the Law of Assemblies, ratified by the PLC according to international criteria. Based on the abovementioned, CSOs confirm their position as follows:
Statement signed by the following coalitions and institutions:
Union of Health Work Committees
Sharek Youth Forum
The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy-MIFTAH
Bisan Center for Research and Development
Human Rights and Democracy Media Center -Shams
Al Haq Institute – Law in the service of Man
Center for the Defense of Freedoms and Civil Rights “Hurriyat”
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Defence for Children International -Palestine (DCI)
The Civil Commission for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law (ISTIQLAL)
Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling
Coalition for Integrity and Accountability AMAN
Palestinian institution for local empowerment and development REFORM
Women’s Studies Center
Mezan Center for Human Rights
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies
Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights
Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Signatories of Civil Coalitions
Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO)
Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council
Civic Forum against violence against women
Civil coalition to reform and protect the judiciary