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A brave MP

Jan 19,2019 - Last updated at Jan 19,2019

All I can say to member of the Lower House of Parliament Khalil Attieh is bravo for bringing to the attention of his colleagues, and in due course to the executive branch of government, an issue that seemed to have escaped the attention and scrutiny of the government, despite the repeated claims that Jordan faithfully honours its commitments and obligations under the binding international human rights treaties.

The pointed issue is whether it is lawful to detain or arrest people for failing to pay up their financial obligations owed to others. Attieh reminded the government that Jordan is treaty bound not to do so by virtue of the supremacy of international treaties over domestic legislation. Attieh also referred to the Court of Cassation decisions 818/2003 and 477/2005, which reaffirm the supremacy of international treaties over domestic legislation.

The universally-accepted jurisprudence of all international human rights bodies stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that international human rights provisions enjoy precedence over domestic laws. Attieh and other members of the Lower House petitioned the government to correct its continued practice of imprisoning people for failing to fulfill a contractual obligation or a court decision ordering them to pay a debt owed to others, by repealing the existing legislation allowing for such a crude way of enforcing financial obligations.

The Judicial Execution Directorate now bears this awesome responsibility to the chagrin and disappointment of the public, who would have hoped for a more reasonable way to make them pay up. There are ways and ways to enforce civil court decisions on payment of a debt or an obligation to others and, Jordan, as a member of the international community, needs not invent the wheel on this subject. All nations face the same challenge, and practically all of them opted for more reasonable ways to do so, including by confiscating properties or putting a lien on them.

Article 11 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is a case in point where it stipulates that: "No one shall be imprisoned on the ground of inability to fulfill a contractual obligation". This provision has been interpreted by the Human Rights Committee, which monitors the application of the ICCPR to include civil court decisions entailing payment of obligations or compensations owing to others. No doubt our learned judges at the Constitutional Court, Court of Cassation and the High Court of Justice are fully aware of this cardinal international rule.

The travesty of the current practice can be best illustrated by the case of an innocent individual, who guaranteed the payment of the price of a refrigerator that a friend of his had bought for JD150. It seems that this friend of his failed to pay the necessary instalments on time, so a lower court ordered the guarantor to pay up the maturing payments or face imprisonment. As this good Samaritan, who was not aware of this problem, was riding a bus to the Jordan Valley one sunny day, the police stopped the vehicle and checked the ID of the passengers. Suddenly, this man was whizzed out of the bus and taken to the police station, where he stayed from noon till midnight to sort this brush with the law, simply because there was a decision by a lower court to enforce this benevolent guarantee. 

Jordan must reckon with the question of whether it wants to abide by international norms and practices, or not. Jordan is not an island in the open seas. Jordan prides itself as a living example of a country living by the civilised rule of the international community. We must not let simple breaches of norms tarnish this image and the good standing of the country.

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