On 19 August 2003, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) approved in a first reading a draft law submitted by the Palestinian Authority cabinet. This draft legislation included amendments to the Law of Charitable Societies and NGOs which provided that the authority to register and supervise such groups would be transferred to the Civil Work Affairs Bureau.
PCHR expresses its concern that the authority for registering and supervising NGOs must be given only to the Ministry of Justice and that the transfer of this authority to the Civil Work Affairs Bureau seriously compromises the work of these groups and Palestinian civil society as a whole. PCHR calls upon the PLC not to ratify the draft law in the second reading, and to transfer this authority to the Ministry of Justice as had been proposed in 1999.
This problem first arose when the PLC approved the Law of Charitable Societies and NGOs in the third reading on 21 December 1998. The draft law was the result of intense efforts by members of the PLC, in full cooperation with Palestinian NGOs, to present legislation that would promote the role and independence of Palestinian civil society. Palestinian NGOs called for the Ministry of Justice to be given the authority for NGO registration rather than the Ministry of Interior.
On 27 December 1998, the draft law was presented to the Palestinian President. President Arafat did not ratify the law, nor did he send it back with his observations to the PLC within the legally-recognized period of one month. The law was not published in the official gazette as required by law. The PLC received the President’s observations only on 10 April 1999. The comments made by the President primarily focused on the transfer of authority for registering and supervising NGOs from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Interior.
The PLC held a session on 25 May 1999 to vote on the President’s amendments. PCHR considered the session unlawful and held in violation of the mechanisms of legislation provided in the by-law of the PLC. At that time PCHR demanded that the law be published in the official gazette without any amendment. In the PLC session, a majority rejected the proposed amendments. Debate took place following the vote regarding whether the number of PLC members present was sufficient to validate the results of the vote. The question was transferred to the PLC Legal Committee. PCHR considered this step irrelevant since PCHR considered the session itself to have been held in violation of the PLC’s by-law.
On 12 August 1999, at the end of a PLC session on the Palestinian budget, the PLC Speaker, Ahmed Qarai’, announced that a conclusion had been reached by the Legal Committee concerning the vote in the session which had taken place on 25 May 1999. Qarai’ announced that the vote in the session of 25 May 1999 had not been sufficient to overrule the President’s amendments. The speaker added that the law would enter into force with the proposed amendments made by the President, which essentially stated that the Ministry of Interior would have the authority to register charitable societies and NGOs.
In a letter sent to PLC members on 31 August 1999, PCHR expressed its disappointment regarding the way that this issued had been dealt with. PCHR also reiterated its position that the session held on 25 May 1999 was essentially unlawful, and that consequently any discussion on the legality of the vote was irrelevant.
Astonishingly, while discussions regarding the law were taking place, the Palestinian Authority established a new ministry, the Ministry of Civil Work Affairs, by a presidential decree issued on 9 July 1999. On 6 October 1999, presidential decree #4 of 1999 was issued specifying the authorities of the new ministry. This new ministry was established after the formation of the cabinet had been presented to the PLC and approved.
The Ministry of Civil Work Affairs has since been reformed as the Civil Work Affairs Bureau. However, PCHR retains its position that such a body is unnecessary. PCHR further reiterates that the reference of civil societies must be the Ministry of Justice and that transfer of authority for registration and supervision of NGOs and charitable societies to the Civil Work Affairs Bureau seriously threatens the independence of such groups and civil society in general.
PCHR calls upon the PLC to reject the amendments made by the President and to return the authority for registration and supervision of NGOs to the Ministry of Justice.
For more information please call PCHR office in Gaza, Gaza Strip, on +972 8 2824776 - 2825893. PCHR, 29 Omer El Mukhtar St., El Remal, PO Box 1328 Gaza, Gaza Strip. http://www.pchrgaza.org