BEIRUT: Parliament Tuesday approved a long awaited draft law aimed at protecting women from domestic violence as it tackled several other controversial pieces of legislation amid protests by several groups.
While the law has been hailed by many as an important step forward, women’s rights activists and some lawmakers have voiced anger over several amendments made to the original text including the title of the proposal.
MPs with the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces voiced reservations over the law, saying the changes they had proposed had not been taken into account.
"I had some suggested amendments to certain articles in the draft law. I asked to speak [during the session] about the suggestions and I was not even allowed to finish reading the proposed changes,” FPM MP Simon Abu Ramia said following the end of the session.
“Regardless of the missing amendments ... We congratulate everyone, particularly women in Lebanon, but with some pain because we were not able to amend articles as requested by KAFA (a women's rights group)” he added.
MP Strida Geagea, one of few lawmakers who worked to see the draft law pass at the committee level, expressed her disappointment over amendments made to the proposal.
"Passing such a law to protect women and the family from violence is a grand victory although our celebration was cut short because we believe that two things needed amendment,” Geagea told reporters in Nejmeh Square.
She also noted that the title of the bill should have remained as originally proposed.
The draft law was first submitted to Parliament in 2010, and a parliamentary subcommittee began studying it in May 2011 and finalized its amendments in August 2012.
The amendments altered the title of the text, which now refers to violence against women and other family members, as opposed to violence against women specifically. A key clause criminalizing marital rape was also removed by the committee, after it sparked a backlash from religious figures and some politicians.
"We should criminalize the act of rape just like the law now criminalizes beating, harm or verbal threats,” Geagea said.
In a sharp increase in cases of domestic abuse, four women died this year in Lebanon as a result of family violence, driving hundreds to march in Beirut last month, calling for the adoption of a draft law.
During the morning session, Parliamentarians also approved a contentious draft rent law opposed by long-time tenants after an hour-long debate. The body is still expected to debate a draft law related to Electricite du Liban contracts.
Meanwhile, Angry EDL workers marched on Parliament in the morning a day after they blocked roads in several parts of the country in protest of the draft law.
The proposal stipulates that only 1,000 part-time workers should pass EDL examinations to fill vacant full-time posts at the company while the rest would be paid their late salaries.
The demonstrators say that an estimated 800 contract workers would become unemployed under the current draft law.
Speaking at the beginning of the session, Speaker Nabih Berri said Parliament “does not legislate under threat” and denounced the use of force by the EDL protesters who tried to break through security barriers to reach Parliament.
“The [EDL workers] draft law was set by the former labor minister in accordance with the workers and a number of lawmakers signed it,” Berri said.
“There is a session for the joint parliamentary committees to follow up the issue, so what is the use of threats? They do not help you or us,” the speaker said in reference to the workers.
Parliament briefly put off discussing the law in the morning in order to give lawmakers time to review the text, scheduling the debate for later in the day. A committee of lawmakers was formed to study the law.
Three lawmakers, George Adwan, Ali Bazzi and Ibrahim Kanaan, met outside Parliament with a committee representing the workers to discuss their proposed amendments to the law.
Meanwhile, inbound and outbound flights from Rafik Hariri International Airport, with the exception of official flights and emergency cases, were suspended for two hours at 10 a.m. due to a strike by air traffic controllers.
Air traffic controllers are demanding amendments to a government proposal to raise the salaries of public servants. The parliamentary committee studying the draft law failed to approve the proposal last week.
Thirteen flights were affected by the strike.