Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Palestinian civil society prepares to escalate its opposition to presidential decrees

"Ramallah - Ma'an - Palestinian civil society organizations are considering escalating their opposition to recent acts by the emergency government, potentially amounting to a boycott of the government announced by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas following Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip on 14 June, knowledgeable Palestinian sources revealed on Tuesday.

According to the source, civil society organizations are discontented following numerous "violations" by several directorates of the interior ministry in the West Bank.

In particular, Palestinian civil society organizations have expressed their opposition to a decree of President Abbas, issued on 20 June, in which all non-governmental organizations were ordered to apply for licensing.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), the decree granted the interior minister, or any person delegated by the minister, the power to “take any steps deemed necessary against associations and organizations with the intent of closure, rectification, or any other action.” The decree also demanded that “all organizations and associations must submit new registration applications within a week, and all these who violate this directive are subject to legal action.”

Various civil society organizations, including the Palestinian National Initiative party headed by Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, explained that this decree effectively revoked the former Palestinian law on non-governmental and civil society organizations, which Barghouthi described as being "one of the most democratic and progressive in the region."

At the time, various Palestinian civil society organizations warned that the decree represented an attack on Palestinian democracy and could jeopardize the legal position of the Palestinian emergency government.

The PCHR warned that this decree was “a serious violation of the right to establish organizations, which is a basic human right guaranteed by article 26 of the Amended Basic Law for 2003, stating Palestinians’ right to “Establish unions, associations, federations, clubs, and public organizations in accordance with the law.””

According to this recent report, talks are ongoing within civil society organizations regarding the implementation of this presidential decree and how to counter it.

In a press release on Tuesday, the PCHR called on President Abbas "to reconsider this decree, and stop subsequent administrative measures which constitute a prelude to crack down on civil society organizations, which are legally registered, with the aim of closing them or restricting their activities in the context of the state of emergency in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

The PCHR also warned that there are indications that the emergency government plans "additional restrictions on civil society organizations".

The centre called on Abbas to keep "civil society out of the current crisis, preserving the independence of civil society, and ensuring the continuity of civil society’s work." In its statement, it also stressed "the importance of the role played by the civil society in the current crisis, especially in the provision of humanitarian, relief, medical and other services to the civilian population."

In general, there appears to be a movement towards refusing to cooperate with the presidential decree and instead adhering to the NGO law, article one, which was ratified in 2000.

The sources mentioned that if the ministry of interior continues its violations against civil society organizations, they might approach the Palestinian judiciary as a last attempt to end these violations.

In the same regard, international civil society organizations working in the Palestinian territories are contacting Palestinian organizations, the source said, and they have assured that they will launch an international campaign to support the Palestinian NGOs against assaults which impede their performance. "

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