HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS IN THE LEBANESE REPUBLIC
Updated: Mar 12
Author: Eesha Vij, III year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Manipal University Jaipur
The country well known as ‘Paris of the Middle East' is going through tough times- tougher than anticipated. With falling authorities, acute political and economic crisis and citizens being robbed of the most basic human rights, topped with a major blast which took place on 4th Aug 2020 in the capital city of Beirut, Lebanon has become a hub of adversities. With a focus on the condition of Human Rights in Lebanon - the unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech, no adequate women rights, child labour, discrimination against migrant labours and Palestinians, stereotyping the LGBTI community and irrational internet restrictions the people have stripped off the rights on daily basis.
Political Background- how 2019 events paved the way to crisis
In January 2019, a new government was formed after nine months of political standstill. Reportedly, out of a total of 30 ministers, 4 were women. In September, the PM declared an economic emergency and as a result of austerity dealings, protests began. On 17 October, nationwide protests and strikes erupted and subsequently on 29 October, the government resigned by the early end of the year. The President of Lebanon further appointed Hassan Diab to serve as PM in mid-December and it turned out that he was not able to form a government before the year’s end. The reaction to protests was that the army used excessive force to disperse protesters- including firing live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas bombs, and even by beating protesters with rifle butts. Late in October, soldiers shot and seriously injured at least two protesters in Beddawi.
The President asked the parliament to ‘review’ the law which exempted children of Lebanese mothers[i] married to non-Lebanese fathers, from applying for work permits. This law passed by the parliament in June 2019 was aimed at the betterment of the prevailing conditions. Later in September, the parliament’s Committee on Women and Children gave a green flag to a draft law on sexual harassment in the workplace, but the general assembly of the country was unsuccessful in discussing it.
Freedom of expression
Security forces of Lebanon continued to capture and cross-examine human rights and peaceful political activists, journalists and other individuals for social media posts criticizing political or religious authorities. In July, ‘church leaders’ provoked the organizers of a festival to cancel the appearance of the band Mashrou’ Leila, saying its songs were “offensive to religious and humanitarian values and Christian beliefs”. This declaration activated a social media storm and as a result, the festival’s organizers cancelled the band’s appearance, maintaining they were forced to do so “to prevent bloodshed and maintain security and stability”.
Migrant domestic workers
Under the kafala (sponsorship) system, which controls the rights to freedom of movement and communication, education and health, including sexual and reproductive health- it is the female migrant workers who suffer the most and have faced a lot of discriminations in the past as well. Amnesty International documented serious human rights abuses faced by many of the country’s 250,000 migrant domestic workers, the majority of which are females. The abusers are no other than the employers themselves. Not only are the workers forced to work for long hours, but they are also deprived of rest days, food and proper accommodation and are even exposed to verbal and physical abuse and denial of access to health care. Keeping this situation in mind, the Minister of Labour formed a working group to look into ‘dismantling the kafala system’ but this act was in vain as the recommendations put forward by the working group weren’t implemented.
Lebanon’s penal code is still applied to criminalize homosexual relations, and security forces have interfered with human rights events related to gender and sexuality based on spurious “morality” claims. Transgender women’s condition is even worse- they face heavy violence and discernment in taking benefit of basic services, including primary education, basic employment, health care, housing and many more.
Sadly, Lebanon has not yet ratified the ‘Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ although ensuring positively. Even while Lebanon’s Law[ii] grants people with disabilities the right to education, health, and other basic rights, implementation has been uneven. Lebanon’s Covid-19 response has overlooked them. When we talk about the health and economic challenges which came as a consequence of the COVID -19 outbreak, for the marginalized communities it has created a pandemic within the pandemic. Despite many recommendations from a lot of organisations to “improve the legal situation of migrant workers” and to “take into particular consideration the vulnerable situation of migrants in the country,” Lebanon has completely failed to fulfil its duty. Lebanon’s health sector is struggling to provide patients in need with emergent and necessary life-saving medical attention due to the government’s failure to provide private and public hospitals with adequate funds. Medical supplies, including gloves and masks, are scarce, compromising Lebanon’s ability to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
The people are unhappy and unsatisfied with the situation of Human Rights in their country and are still not able to do anything about it. Human rights are the tools that ensure dignity and being deprived of them snatches away the opportunity to live with the rights to express oneself.
With the universal Periodic Review of the Lebanese Republic due in January 2021 (just a few months from now) and no visible signs of progress in any sphere since 2015, the future of this miserably beautiful country is no less than a nightmare.
[i] Mothers who hold residency cards but not Lebanese nationality.