Statement for the Record on the November 2019 Hearing “What’s Next For Lebanon? Examining the Implications of Current Protests”

November 19, 2019

 

Rep. Theodore Deutch, Chairman

Rep. Joe Wilson, Ranking Member

House Foreign Affairs Committee

2170 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

 

Re:  November 19, 2019 hearing on “What’s Next for Lebanon?”

 

Dear Chairman Deutch, Ranking Member Wilson, and Members of the Committee:

 

On behalf of Amnesty International USA (“AIUSA”) and our more than two million members and supporters nationwide, we urge this Committee to highlight the deteriorating human rights situation in Lebanon. We conduct in-depth human rights investigations, analyze our findings in light of Lebanon’s obligations under international human rights law treaties it has ratified and formulate recommendations for policy change to bring the country into compliance with those obligations. The following is an overview of some of the organization’s key concerns and recommendations.

 

violations in context of 17 october Protests

Mass protests swept across Lebanon shortly after the government announced new tax measures on 17 October. In unprecedented scenes tens of thousands of peaceful protesters from different religious and class sectors of society assembled in cities across the country accusing the political leadership of corruption and calling for social and economic reforms.

Underlying frustration with the government and the political elite had been accumulating for years. Public anger has escalated in recent years over electricity and water shortages, as well as the government’s failure to manage the country’s waste and economic crises.

While protesters remain overwhelmingly peaceful, Amnesty International documented a range of human rights violations by the Lebanese authorities across different cities where protests have been taking place. These include:

  • Failure to protect peaceful protesters who came under attack from supporters of Amal and Hizbullah supporters. Amnesty documented three such incidents, namely in Sour on 19 October, in Nabatieh on 23 October, and Beirut on 29 October.
  • Excessive use of force by the Lebanese army and security forces, including the use of live ammunition against protesters – namely in Khaldeh on 12 November which resulted in the death of the peaceful protester Alaa Abou Fakhr (38-year-old father of three and in Beddawi, North Lebanon on 26 October where four peaceful protesters were wounded. On 18 October in downtown Beirut, shortly after the speech of Prime Minister Hariri, security forces used excessive force to disperse protesters firing huge amounts of tear gas into crowds and chasing protesters down streets and alleys at gunpoint and beating them. On 23 October officers from the Lebanese army and army intelligence resorted to excessive force in seeking to disperse protesters who had blocked the main Awwali highway in the southern city of Saida.
  • Violations during arrest and unlawful detention of protestors in different areas of Lebanon, including Beirut, Jal El Dib and Beddawi. The Lebanese Army arbitrarily arrested scores of peaceful protesters, and in doing so, soldiers together with armed men in civilian clothes who later identified as members of the Army Investigation branch, beat them severely, including with rifle butts and sticks. During their arrest and detention, protesters were insulted and threatened and were denied contact with lawyers or their families, and sometimes medical care. Furthermore, they were not told of their whereabouts, and in certain cases, they were asked to sign depositions and so-called “confessions” which they never made.

recommendations:

  • The Lebanese military and security forces must immediately end the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters,
  • Security forces must protect peaceful protesters from intimidation or violent attacks by supporters to ruling powers,
  • The Lebanese authorities must respect the legal rights to due process of individuals,
  • The judiciary must order an independent and impartial investigation into the unlawful use of force, as well as torture or other ill-treatment, and refer any military investigations related to human rights violations to the civilian justice system, including the killing of Alaa Abou Fakhr in order to ensure access to justice for the victims and their families.
  • The Lebanese authorities must respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and free expression of peaceful protestors.

For Further Information:

  • Press Release: Lebanon: Only a civilian court can bring justice for the death of Alaa Abou Fakhr November 2019.
  • Press Release: Lebanon: Investigate excessive use of force including use of live ammunition to disperse protests November 2019.
  • Press Release: Lebanon: Authorities must protect peaceful protesters and respect their right to assemble October 2019.
  • Press Release: Lebanon: Authorities must immediately end the use of excessive force against peaceful protesters October 2019.

 

Torture

In September 2017, Lebanese parliament passed Law 65 criminalizing torture. The new law defines torture, stipulates the inadmissibility of statements extracted under torture, urges the public prosecutor to act on complaints or notices of torture within 48 hours, prohibits security agencies from carrying out torture during an investigation, establishes the right to rehabilitation, and declares torture to be a crime which cannot be justified by necessity or national security requirements.

In June 2019, Amnesty International examined eight cases detailing torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in Lebanon, all of which occurred between October 2017 and June 2019, after the anti-torture law came into force. These cases provide evidence that torture and other ill-treatment continues to take place across the spectrum of Lebanese security apparatuses.

Torture survivors described being subjected to brutal beatings including being struck with a hose or metal chains, given electric shocks on their genitalia, being hung in stress positions for long periods, having their finger bones cracked or being violently slapped or kicked in the face, head and body. Several victims also said that they were insulted or threatened with sexual violence.

recommendations:

  • Ensure proper, independent, transparent and impartial investigation into reports of torture and other ill-treatment, and hold the perpetrators accountable
  • Ensure that the findings of the internal investigation into the death of Hassan al-Dika are shared publicly and that those found responsible are held accountable
  • Ensure the implementation of anti-torture law and Articles on ill-treatment in both the Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure
  • End the practice of torture and ill-treatment in detention centers
  • Operationalize the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM).

for further information:

rights of Syrian Refugees

As of 31 July 2019, there were 918,974 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with UNHCR and 31,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). In addition, the Lebanese government claims that around 550,000 Syrian refugees live in Lebanon unregistered.

Syrian refugees continue to face serious financial and administrative difficulties in obtaining or renewing residency permits, exposing them to a constant risk of arbitrary arrest and detention. In addition to serious livelihood hardships, made more severe by camp demolitions, these are pushing refugees to return to Syria before it is safe for them to do so.

On 13 May 2019, the GSO started implementing the decision taken by Higher Defense Council to start deporting refugees who entered Lebanon “illegally” after the date of 24 April 2019. Between then and 9 August 2019, according to GSO and the Minister of Presidential Affairs data, communicated in an official correspondence with Amnesty International on 21 August 2019, 2,447 Syrians had been deported to Syria.

The international legal principle of non-refoulement, binding as customary law, forbids states from forcing people – directly or indirectly – to a place where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.

recommendations:

  • As part of the Higher Defense Council, the Ministry of Interior should revoke the decree and stop the deportations immediately,
  • Ensure suitable and dignified living conditions for Syrian refugees in the country as required by international law, with the assistance of, and in cooperation with, the international community,
  • Facilitate access of Syrian refugees to residency cards,
  • Ensure that any Syrian refugee facing an order related to their legal status in Lebanon is able to challenge that in a court, as required by international due process standards.

for further information:

Migrant Domestic Workers

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are excluded from the protections in the Labour Law and are governed instead by the kafala system, which ties the legal residency of the worker to the contractual relationship with the employer. If this employment relationship ends, even in cases of abuse by the employer, the worker loses regular migration status. Moreover, the worker cannot change their employer without the latter’s permission. This allows the employer to coerce the worker into accepting exploitative working conditions. If a migrant domestic worker refuses such conditions and decides to leave the home of the employer without the latter’s consent, the worker risks losing their residency status and consequently faces detention and deportation.

Amnesty International interviewed 32 women migrant domestic workers in 2018-2019. Their testimonies revealed significant and consistent patterns of abuse. These included exploitative working conditions, forced labour, and human trafficking. Many women interviewed by Amnesty International also reported that GSO had confiscated their passports upon their arrival in Lebanon and given them directly to their employers.

Migrant domestic workers who had given birth to children in Lebanon explained to Amnesty International that they were in constant fear of being deported because they could not regularize their children’s legal status in the country without their employer’s intervention. In response to an inquiry by Amnesty International about its policy regarding migrant domestic workers with children, GSO did not clarify how the authorities would treat a migrant couple if they had a child and did not live together, were not employed by the same sponsor or were not married.

Amnesty International’s research has revealed how the excessive powers of the employer accorded by the kafala system impede the worker’s ability to access justice and bring abusers to account. Amnesty International interviewed women who had run away from what they reported as abusive working environments, forced labour or trafficking. However, the fact that their legal status is tied to that of their employer and their fear of being arrested prevented them from reporting their abusive employers to the Internal Security Forces or to GSO. This in turn allows abusive employers and agencies to escape judicial oversight and continue to perpetrate crimes.

recommendations:

  • Ensure that GSO forces immediately stop the practice of confiscating the passports of migrant domestic workers upon their arrival in Lebanon,
  • Revise relevant policies to allow free-of-charge residency for children of all foreign domestic workers, regardless of their marital or employment status,
  • Train Internal Security and General Security forces to identify and assist migrant domestic workers who have been subjected to violence and other abuse and facilitate their access to medical care and the justice system,
  • Ensure a safe and confidential environment for women to report physical and sexual abuse to the police irrespective of their nationality or residency status and hold accountable police officers who fail to deal with complaints appropriately,
  • Increase awareness among domestic workers and law enforcement authorities about the national anti-trafficking law and ensure its full implementation,
  • Grant migrant domestic workers who have made complaints against their employers temporary visas during court cases and allow them to work for new employers throughout their duration.

for fuRthEr information:

Freedom of Expression

Despite being a signatory to the ICCPR, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, Lebanon is not currently meeting its obligations with regards to protecting and respecting the right to freedom of expression of people in Lebanon.

Various security institutions have been summoning, detaining and interrogating dozens of human rights defenders, peaceful political activists and other individuals in relation to their social media posts criticizing political, religious or economic authorities, all of which are legitimate freedom of expression The pledges have no legal basis under Lebanese law and violate the right to freedom of expression which is set out in the Lebanese constitution as well as under international human rights law.

The Ministry of Interior has on several occasions failed to protect the right to free speech, association and assembly of different social groups, against threats and hate speech. The latest such example is the failure to implement the judicial ruling in relation to the Mashou’ Leila case, which called for the protection of the band and the public to allow the concert to go ahead. Lebanese and international rights groups called on the public prosecutor to investigate those who had incited to violence. The failure to ensure such protection sent a dangerous signal to those who incite to violence and contributes to the shrinking of civil society space generally.

recommendations:

  • End the use of illegal pledges to blackmail individuals, including human rights defenders, activists and commentators, into compromising their free speech and asking them to renounce their rights to it.
  • Respect the right of detainees to speak to a lawyer and to be protected from detention in the absence of a decision of the public prosecution and within the time limits set by the Code of Criminal Procedure,
  • Protect all people residing in Lebanon equally from any intimidation, harassment and threats, by thoroughly and effectively investigating the reports of threats and incitement to violence, and to hold accountable those found to be inciting hatred and violence against them.

for further information:

LGBTQI

Security apparatuses continue to resort to Article 534 and laws in relation to “debauchery”, “prostitution” and “disturbing the public order” to harass and abuse LGBTQI people, especially in refugee and migrant communities,

Over ‎the past two years, security forces have increasingly cancelled activities by LGBTQI civil society groups on various pretexts, often arguing that they need to ensure the protection of the audience as “radical religious groups” had threatened to attack if the event were to go ahead. The security authorities have chosen to support opposing groups that threaten violence by clamping down on the freedom of expression of groups wishing to mark this day in a peaceful manner. Instead of holding those making threats accountable, security forces have taken the threat as a given and imposed the ban.

recommendations:

  • Ensure the protection of LGBTQI individuals and organizations, and safeguard their freedom of expression, association and assembly by allowing events and conferences to proceed as planned,
  • Respect the due process of law in interrogating and detaining LGBTQI individuals, including those allegedly suspected of practicing sex work,
  • Investigate and hold accountable those who incite violence and hatred against LGBTQI individuals and organizations.

for further information:

For more information, please contact Philippe Nassif at (202)768-5547 or at: [email protected]

Sincerely,

Joanne Lin Philippe Nassif
National Director Advocacy Director
Advocacy and Government Relations Middle East and North Africa
Amnesty International USA Amnesty International USA

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