The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) is extremely concerned by the decision taken by the Interior Minister in the Palestinian Government in Ramallah to dissolve 103 benevolent associations and non-governmental organizations alleging administrative, financial, or legal violations. PCHR fears that this step is taken within the context of recent restrictions placed on civil society to undermine its role and restrict its work under the “State of Emergency” declared on 14 June 2007 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
The Prime Minister in Ramallah, Salam Fayyad, stated on Tuesday, 28 August 2007, that his government has decided to dissolve 103 non-governmental organizations in the OPT for “committing legal, administrative, or financial violations of Law No. 1 of the Year 2000 on Benevolent Societies and Non-governmental Institutions.” Fayyad asked the beneficiaries of these organizations to head to the Ministry of Social Affairs in his government to state their needs.
It is noted that on 20 June 2007, President Mahmoud Abbas issued a presidential decree stipulating that all non-governmental organizations must reapply for registration. The first article in the decree granted the Minister of Interior “the authority to review the registration of all associations and non-governmental organizations issued by the Ministry of Interior or any other governmental body.” The second article granted the Minister of Interior or his delegate the right to “take the steps deemed suitable regarding associations and non-governmental organizations including closure, correction of status, or any other measures.” The third article stipulated that “all associations and non-governmental organizations must submit new registration applications within one week, and all those who violate are subject to legal action.” At the time, PCHR strongly condemned the decree, and considered it a serious violation of the constitutional right to form associations. In addition, the Centre viewed the decree subjects associations and non-governmental organizations to more restrictions than those already imposed by the Benevolent Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations Law of the Year 2000.
On 2 July 2007, the Under-Secretary of the Minister of Interior in Ramallah, Amin Maqboul, requested that associations and non-governmental organizations speed up the process of correcting their legal status within one week. The request included submitting an application to receive a written letter from the Under-Secretary to reactivate their bank accounts, to receive the new application forms, and to submit the new application within a week. Maqboul asked West Bank associations and non-governmental organizations that were registered by the Ministry of Interior in Gaza to “submit new registration applications to fulfill legal requirements within one week. Otherwise they will be considered in a state of violating the law.” The Under-Secretary considered “all associations working in Palestine that are not registered in accordance with the effective law or did not correct their legal status to be in a state of violating the law” and that they should “submit new registration applications within one week to be processed by the Ministry. Otherwise, they will be legally dissolved.”
PCHR criticized these procedures by the Ministry of Interior and called for stopping them. These measures were considered an introduction to attack legally-registered civil society organizations, so as to close them or restrict their work and role during the “State of Emergency” in the OPT.
PCHR fears that the decision to dissolve 103 benevolent organizations and non-governmental organizations and the restrictions on civil society are implemented as part of the “State of Emergency” in the OPT. It is noted that there were no Presidential decrees to end the “State of Emergency” or its decrees, including the one on the re-registration of associations. PCHR’s fears are accentuated by the fact that most of the associations to be dissolved were registered in Gaza during the tenure of ex-Minister of Interior, Sa’id Seyam, during the Hamas government.
In light of these developments, PCHR:
- Affirms the right to form associations as a basic human right protected by the Palestinian Basic Law.
- Points out that this decision is a violation of the Benevolent Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations Law No. 1 for the Year 2000 that states in its Article 37 that all violating associations must be given a written notice by the Ministry and to be given the legal timeframe to correct its conditions.
- Calls upon the government in Ramallah to rescind this decision that will cut off humanitarian and emergency aid to thousands of Palestinian families.
- Calls for keeping Palestinian civil society out of the ongoing power struggle, and to protect the independence of civil society and its work.
- Stresses the importance of the role of civil society during the ongoing crisis, especially in the provision of humanitarian, emergency, and medical aid to Palestinian civilians.