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Lebanon's politicians urged to focus on human rights in election campaigns

Lebanon's electorate goes to the polls in a national election on 7 June. Amnesty International has written an open letter to political leaders calling on them to put human rights at the centre of their election campaign. In the letter published on Thursday, Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General, urges political leaders in the country to firmly entrench the protection and promotion of human rights in both the law and in practice. The letter identifies five key steps: Reform the justice system to ensure it is independent and to guarantee fair trials; End all arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment; End impunity for grave human rights violations and establish mechanisms to ensure justice, truth and reparation for victims of past gross abuses of human rights; End all discrimination and violence and other abuses against women and members of marginalised groups; Enact legislation to abolish the death penalty for all crimes. Irene Khan also urged campaigning parties to display respect for freedom of expression, assembly and other rights essential to the conduct of political life during their campaigns. Political divisions in Lebanon have hindered the full realization of human rights in the country.   The June elections represent a new opportunity to build upon the period following the Doha Agreement of last May, the formation of the national unity government and the subsequent election of Michel Suleiman as President.   There have been some positive human rights developments in the country in recent months. In December 2008, Lebanon ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. In addition, a draft law to abolish the death penalty is now under active consideration. The Lebanese authorities have also clearly recognized that concrete action is needed to improve the conditions of thousands of migrant domestic workers and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who live in the country. The establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in February and the current parliament’s development of a national Human Rights Action Plan are two other potentially positive developments, which if built upon could help lead to a far-reaching programme of human rights reform.