BEIRUT: Rights activists claim that several amendments to the long-awaited law addressing domestic violence in Lebanon undermine the victory of Tuesday’s passage of the law by Parliament.
“We had important comments that affected the essence of the law, and it weakens protection measures for women,” Zoya Rouhana, director of gender-equality organization KAFA, told The Daily Star.
“We were expecting that the amendments would at least be discussed during Parliament, but unfortunately it did not address it in depth even though many MPs had signed in support, and nobody had the concern to rise and defend them during the session.”
The draft law to protect women from domestic violence was first submitted to Parliament in 2010, and a parliamentary subcommittee began studying it in May 2011, finalizing its amendments in August 2012.
The alterations included a new title for the bill, which now refers to violence against the family as opposed to violence against women, and the removal of a key clause criminalizing marital rape, after it sparked a backlash from religious figures and some politicians.
In 2012, KAFA quickly countered by starting a petition to lobby MPs to endorse its own amendments to the law and has been campaigning ever since. The organization received 71 signatures of support from MPs promising to raise the issue during the government’s legislative session Tuesday, its first in over a year, but according to KAFA, not a single person objected to the bill.
“If an MP does not respect his signature, I don’t know how they expect us to trust them,” Maya Ammar, KAFA’s communications officer, told the Daily Star just a few moments after the law was passed, amid a throng of more than 150 people who had gathered at Downtown’s Gibran Khalil Gibran Garden to call for the law’s adoption.
“It seemed as if it was a ready-prepared scenario and there was no option for discussion even.”
Protesters at the rally, held under the slogan “Vote for us so we vote for you,” aimed to pressure Parliament by vowing not to vote in the next parliamentary elections unless the bill was passed.
Protesters carried placards reading “Vote for the law” and “The law is my voice,”and yelled out slogans slamming Parliament. They also carried pictures of women who had been killed by their husbands.
Participating in the protest was Zina, the 16-year-old sister of alleged domestic violence victim Rouqaya Mounzer. The 24-year-old was allegedly shot in the chest by her husband Mohammad in Beirut’s southern suburbs last month. If the allegations are true, she would be one of at least four domestic abuse fatalities already this year. Her husband was caught on the night of the incident and is still being held by the authorities, but no arrest warrant has so far been issued against him.
Asked whether she believed passing the law would bring justice to her sister, Zina said: “If they [the MPs] pass it, and they abide by its essence and content, it might, yes.”
However, she added that if the law were passed without KAFA’s proposed amendments, then it would be in vain.
Also present at the morning protest was 83-year-old Fawzi Iskandar, who has participated in previous demonstrations.
“This is a natural right for women, and I am with this right,” she said, carrying a placard reading: “Woe to the nation who kills its women in the name of honor.”
Angry that its amendments were ignored, KAFA called for a second protest in Riad Solh later in the afternoon, at which demonstrators stamped red thumbprints on pictures of Parliament’s 128 members, a symbolic reference to the process of voting and the blood shed by domestic violence victims.
Speaking at the second rally, which drew a smaller crowd of around 50, KAFA head Rouhana said the organization felt as though a “conspiracy” was underway, claiming the decision was taken “very quickly.”
MPs with the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces also voiced reservations over the approved version of 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 Abi Ramia said after the bill was passed.
“Regardless of the missing amendments ... we congratulate everyone, particularly women in Lebanon, but with some pain because we were not able to amend the articles as requested by KAFA.”
MP Strida Geagea, one of the lawmakers who worked to see the draft law passed at the committee level, also expressed her disappointment over the result.
“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 Nijmeh Square, adding that she thought the bill should have retained its original title and the omitted marital rape clause.
“We should criminalize the act of [marital] rape just like the law now criminalizes beating, harm or verbal threats,” Geagea said.