Lebanon must end impunity for human rights abuses following UN Human Rights Council review

The government of Lebanon must heed the recommendations of the international community and do much more to fulfil, respect and protect human rights, putting an end to impunity underpinning the drastic erosion of fundamental economic, social and civil rights, Amnesty International said today, following Lebanon’s Universal Periodical Review (UPR) before the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday 18 January. 

Forty-seven governments at the UPR Working Group session on Monday made recommendations for improving human rights protections in Lebanon. 

“The Lebanese authorities must accept these recommendations and commit to making the changes necessary to turn the tide on decades of abuses of people’s social, civil and economic rights. Accountability must replace impunity and Lebanon must be held to its promises,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Lynn Maalouf. 

“Since its last review at the Human Rights Council in 2015, Lebanon has made little progress on the recommendations it accepted, failing to adequately investigate torture allegations and increasingly curtailing freedom of expression and assembly in the context of protests. These recommendations must be prioritized by the next Lebanese governments in the next four years, until Lebanon’s next review.  

“In the years since Lebanon’s last UPR, Amnesty International has documented egregious violations of the rights to freedom of expression, protection from torture, protection of protesters from excessive force, adequate work conditions for migrant workers, and protection of the rights of refugees — especially from refoulement. Lebanon has also failed to end discrimination against women and protect the rights of LGBTIQ individuals. Any positive steps taken, such as the establishment of the anti-torture commission or the commission for the missing, have largely and thus far been tokenistic as the authorities have failed to empower and operationalize these bodies.” 

Torture 

In its 2015 review, the Lebanese government accepted recommendations to investigate and prosecute allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. Impunity for torture remains rife, however. At least 32 complaints filed under the 2017 Anti-Torture Law failed to reach court and most of them were closed without an effective investigation. Obstacles to accountability included the system of referring complaints to the very agencies accused of torture, or to the military justice system. Officers accused of torture remain in their positions and, in one instance, an officer named in a complaint was subsequently promoted. 

The Lebanese authorities must accept these recommendations and commit to making the changes necessary to turn the tide on decades of abuses of people’s social, civil and economic rights. Accountability must replace impunity and Lebanon must be held to its promises.
Lynn Maalouf

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Lebanese authorities to implement the recommendations it accepted in the 2015 review and end the practice of freezing torture complaints. Further, the government must implement its anti-torture law by investigating complaints, holding the perpetrators accountable and offering redress to the victims of torture and other ill-treatment. 

In Monday’s UPR meeting, at least five governments called on Lebanon to effectively end torture. 

Freedom of expression 

In the wake of the October 2019 protest movement, Lebanese authorities relentlessly harassed journalists and activists visible during the protests, using defamation laws that fail to meet international standards and unduly restrict people’s rights to exercise their freedom of expression.  

Between October 2019 and June 2020, security and military agencies interrogated 75 individuals, including 20 journalists, in relation to spurious charges of defamation over social media posts criticizing authorities, even though none of these agencies are mandated to investigate issues of free speech.

Amnesty International has called for an end to the use of laws on defamation to harass activists and journalists and urged the authorities to bring national legislation curtailing the right to freedom of expression in line with international standards. 

At least 11 member states made recommendations to decriminalize defamation during Monday’s UPR session. 

Kafala 

For years, local and international communities have called on the Lebanese state to abolish kafala, an inherently abusive migration sponsorship system, and protect the rights of women migrant domestic workers to adequate work conditions. The economic crisis, coupled with the spread of COVID-19, worsened conditions for these vulnerable workers. Since May 2020, employers have abandoned scores of migrant domestic workers

 outside their consulates or embassies, often without their belongings or even their passports. These migrant workers have been subjected to exploitation, including being refused pay or plane tickets to return home. 

The Lebanese authorities must urgently take steps to dismantle the kafala system, including by ensuring migrant workers are not dependent on exploitative employers for their legal status in the country. Only a change to the labor law enshrining protection for migrant workers can protect the rights of these workers to a dignified and just work environment. 

At least 14 governments called for an end to kafala in the UNHRC review. 

Right to assembly and protest 

Despite statements by the Lebanese government during its 2015 UPR committing to protect protesters’ right to peaceful assembly, the military, the Internal Security Forces and Parliament Police used excessive force — including live ammunition, rubber pellets and tear gas — against largely peaceful protesters amid the eruption of the protest movement across Lebanon in October 2019 and failed to protect them from armed supporters of political parties.  

In one incident, at least 409 people were injured over two nights in January 2020 as a result of the authorities’ excessive use of force, and, in another incident, 230 were injured in a single day as they protested four days after the devastating Beirut explosion that had already left over 6,000 people injured. No transparent investigations have been carried out into the use of excessive force, nor any of the victims offered remedy. 

Amnesty International has previously called on Lebanon to end the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters and respect and protect their rights to protest. The organization has also called for thorough, independent, and effective investigations into the violent crackdown on protesters during the October 2019 protests. 

At least five governments called on Lebanon to respect and protect the right to freedom of assembly and protest