Lebanon News

MP fast-tracks law criminalizing sexual harassment

File - MP Ghassan Moukheiber speaks during a ceremony held in Roumieh, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: MP Ghassan Moukheiber submitted an urgent draft law to Parliament Tuesday that would criminalize sexual harassment and racist abuse, saying the legislation was needed after allegations emerged against Beirut’s former acting governor last month.

Nassif Qalloush was accused of sexual harassment after a former employee published a covertly filmed video that allegedly implicated him in sexual harassment.

“I have been working on the bill for over a year. ... After the governor’s incident, I realized that the [current] law was unable to handle such [a] case,” Moukheiber told The Daily Star.

Sexual harassment is not currently illegal in Lebanon. The draft law suggests a penalty of three months to one year in prison and a fine of up to LL675,000 for either sexual or racial harassment.

Sexual harassment, according to the draft law, includes shocking sexual acts or offhand comments, as well as unwelcomed sexual advances and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

The penalty could be harsher if the victim is a minor or a person with special needs, or if the harassment takes place in the workplace, according to the draft law.

“Civil servants can face termination from their jobs according to the law if it is proven that they have been making improper sexual advances or exerting pressure on employees for sexual aims,” said Moukheiber, who is a member of Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc.

“Private sector employers would also face charges,” Moukheiber said, adding that “private firms should also include articles criminalizing sexual harassments in their internal system.”

By marking the law as top priority, Moukhaiber is able to speed up the normally lengthy process of getting legislation onto Parliament’s General Assembly agenda.

He said the bill would complement a law criminalizing domestic violence recently passed by Parliament, and was upbeat that lawmakers would support his proposal.

“I expect Parliament to discuss the bill because it goes with the flow of the conservative attitude of Lebanese society,” he said.

Last month, Parliament approved a law – first submitted in 2010 - aimed at protecting women from domestic violence.

However, the move drew criticism from activists, who pointed to several amendments such as the altering of the title of the text to refer to violence against the family rather than women specifically and the removing of a key clause criminalizing marital rape.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 14, 2014, on page 4.




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