Lebanon’s human rights record up for review
This article first appeared on The Media Line.
Lebanon is due to go before the United Nations Human Rights Council next week for a review of its human rights policy. Activists say that since the last human rights review five years ago, the situation has not improved.
“Over the years we have had many meetings on the issue of torture including talks with the Prime Minister last January,” Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line. “When we look at Lebanon’s record over the past five years, we see missed opportunities, procrastination and a lack of leadership.”
Lebanese authorities deny these charges. In its national submission to the Human Rights Council last month, the Lebanese government asserted that “vigorous steps are also being taken to prevent torture by prosecuting perpetrators of torture and either sentencing them to imprisonment or subjecting them to severe disciplinary measures, such as dismissal from office.”
The problem, activists say, is that the military investigates itself, making convictions almost impossible. Lebanon committed itself to establishing the National Preventive Mechanism to visit facilities like jails and police stations where torture is believed to take place, and to stop it before it starts.
“According to our statistics, in prisons and police stations, at least 60 percent of the detainees are subjected to torture and ill treatment during their investigation,” Marie Daunay, of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights told The Media Line. “During detention people are kept in underground places where they never see sunlight which is a form of psychological torture.”
In the past few months there have been growing protests against the government which closed the main landfill in the country without offering an alternative. Mounds of garbage have piled up in the streets.
“I filmed militia groups throwing rocks and concrete blocks during the recent protests,” Habib Fattah, an investigative journalist in Lebanon told The Media Line. “The militia is part of one of the political parties in Lebanon, and my footage went viral. The party later claimed they had nothing to do with the attacks but I showed that the men were close to the speaker of parliament.”
The only bright note is a 2014 law on domestic violence that makes it easier for women to file complaints against their husbands, and encourages the government to prosecute them.
Officials blame the current political crisis in Lebanon for their inability to do more to safeguard human rights. Lebanon currently has no president, and the government is a caretaker one that hesitates to take decisions. In addition, Lebanon is struggling to handle the 1.2 million Syrian refugees who fled to the country.
Refugees from Syria have to pay about $260 to renew their residency permits each year, more than many of them make in a month. As a result the number of illegal asylum seekers is increasing each year, which presents its own human rights challenges. These refugees will not turn to the police if a crime is committed against them, fearing they could be arrested and deported back to Syria.
Houry recognizes the challenges that Lebanon is facing but says they cannot be an excuse for human rights abuses.
“The scale of the problem is like the garbage crisis – it’s just getting worse,” he said. “Procrastination and mediocrity are not doing Lebanon any service at this stage.”