On 28 August 2007, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced a decision by his Interior Minister which dissolves 103 Palestinian civil society organizations (SCOs) for alleged illegal, administrative or financial misconduct.
The decision freezes assets of many of these SCOs, thus denying thousands of Palestinians the important services they provide.
The announcement stated that the beneficiaries of these organizations should consult the Ministry of Social Affairs, (MSA), which would tend to their needs.
Given the numerous breaches of the law embedded in this decision, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns it.
The decision is contrary to Palestinian law.
Among other observations based on relevant Palestinian law, Al Mezan wishes to assert the following points: Palestinian law protects citizens' freedom to exercise social, cultural, professional and scientific activity.
It obliges the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to guarantee the freedom of charitable associations and popular societies to practice their work.
The PNA is obliged to facilitate the activity of SCOs, to refrain from interfering with their work, and to guarantee their ability to continue their work towards effective provision of services to improve the life of Palestinian citizens; whether by carrying out activities of social, health, artistic, sports, cultural or spiritual nature.
The PNA is obliged to observe the limitations placed by the law in case of making any decision dissolving an SCO.
Those are determined by the law as: Issuance by the Ministry of Interior of a written forewarning to any SCO that is suspect of committing essential breaches of its own bylaws.
The warning should demonstrate the nature of such breaches and determine which specific articles in the SCO's bylaws it is suspected of breaching.
The SCO should be given a period of three months to rectify its situation and amend the breaches included in the above-mentioned warning.
Any decisions to dissolve a SCO must be initiated in writing and must include the reasons behind such decisions.
Article 37 of the Law of Charitable Associations and Popular Organizations No.
1 Year 2000 indicates the cases and/or reasons that may justify dissolving an SCO as follows: That the General Assembly of the SCO decides to dissolve the SCO.
In such a case, the Ministry of Interior must be notified by this decision immediately; That the CSO fails to initiate its activity as determined by its bylaws within one year from its registration, unless such failure is caused by conditions beyond the control of the SCO.
In this case, the SCO's registration at the Ministry may be cancelled according to a written notification by the Ministry; That the SCO commits a fundamental breach of its bylaws and fails to rectify its situation within a period of three months starting from the date of issuing a warning by the Minister of Interior or another mandated department; Palestinian law protects the SCOs' right to resort to the judiciary.
According to the aforementioned law No/1 Year 2000, an SCO may continue functioning during trial period and until a court ruling suspends its work temporarily or permanently, or dissolves it.
Without such a ruling an SCO has a full right to pursue its goals, conduct its activities, pursue its internal democratic process, and manage its finances in accord with its financial and accountability systems.
It is not practically possible that the government can compensate the thousands of citizens who have been injured by this decision.
The MSA's promise to compensate them cannot be kept.
The 103 SCOs tend to a wide variety of community needs; including, among other things, relief, rehabilitation, prisoners' rights and informal education.
Many of those are not within the MSA's scope of work.
In addition, the decision upsets the balanced relationship between SCOs and corresponding ministries as it is created by the law.
This relation must be based on a foundation of coordination, cooperation and integration in pursuing public good.
The decision to freeze the assets of SCOs without a ruling from the judiciary constitutes a serious breach of Law No/1 Year 2000.
Article 41 in this law emphasizes that it is not permissible to impound an SCO's assets, or to search or close down its HQ or branches without a court's ruling authorizing such conduct.
Al Mezan Center for Human rights views with great concern the issuance of decisions dissolving SCOs and freezing the assets of many of them.
The Center views the decision as a violation of Palestinian citizens' right to form SCOs, in a breach of Article 26 of the amended Palestinian Basic Law (temporary constitution), which asserts the right of every Palestinian to participate in political life individually or in association with others; particularly throughout forming syndicates, associations, unions, federations, clubs and popular institutions in accordance with the law.
Al Mezan therefore calls the Minister of Interior to reconsider these decisions and cancel the freezing of SCOs assets.
The Center calls for full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms under the rule of law.