BEIRUT: Lebanese psychoanalyst and activist Reina Milad Sarkis is heading an initiative to establish a Human Rights Ministry in Lebanon, in light of rising violations in the country.
“The ministry needs an official place in government because that would symbolize the government’s respect for human dignity. It would tell the country that no Lebanese citizen is to be left out or dispossessed of his human rights. The country needs this,” Sarkis told The Daily Star.
Though still at the proposal stage, the ministry would monitor infractions, promote human rights values, communicate and raise awareness, bridge gaps in NGO performance and manage the relationship between NGOs, the United Nations and the government.
According to Sarkis, the ministry’s scope would revolve around issues like torture in prisons, refugees, migrant worker rights, woman’s rights and legacies of past conflict.
“This is not a ministry of prosecution. The MoHR is not here to put war lords in prison. This is about the citizen, there are issues that are non-political and there is so much room for work,” she added.
Sarkis said that the ministry doesn’t have to be funded solely by the government, the MoHR has to respond to international values and “there are international references that it will be backed by.”
The human rights activist stressed that the MoHR must be established as an independent entity that is not tied in to any other ministry.
According to Sarkis, linking the ministry would not allow Parliament to closely monitor human rights issues.
“When there is a problem that concerns the whole nation then you have to respond with the same scope, make same caliber decisions. You can’t heal a heavily bleeding man with just a band aid,” she added.
No official governmental decision has been taken concerning the project as of yet, and Sarkis is still in the early stages of lobbying.
According to Sarkis, Lebanon’s very active civil society springs from the government’s absence in pressing human rights issues in the country. A large number of NGO’s working on human rights issues have had their efforts countered by the government, she added.
“I went in to the project knowing that it would be hard, that we have a corrupt government, and to me it was more of a reason to do it,” she said.
Lebanon adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948, and was also an active party in the creation and drafting of the bill.
“We need to decide what our culture is, and decide who we are, because if we officially believe in human rights then creating the ministry would not challenge peoples beliefs, it would enhance them.”
The human rights activist said that she has been seriously thinking and researching the project for three years, and she was ready this year to test the waters.
Sarkis has been focusing her research and working in human rights for nearly a decade. She also co-founded the group Springhints that published “Reforms: the spring of interrogations,” and also cofounded Citizen L, a group of academics who take interest in political matters and reforms. Both organizations are official partners in the MoHR initiative.
Sarkis said that she started alone but now there is a team of people she works with, adding that she has been receiving calls from ministers and officials who support the project.
"More people are joining in, getting excited and giving their input.”