BEIRUT: A draft National Action Plan for Human Rights was launched in Parliament Monday, on the occasion of the U.N. Human Rights Day, and covers a comprehensive raft of legislation, from judicial reform to the rights of women and children.
The action plan – a 195 page document – was drafted by the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, civil society groups, the U.N. Development Program and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Lebanon, and has been in the works for seven years.
Lebanon was one of the member states behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.
Speaking at the launch, which was attended by Speaker Nabih Berri, U.N. Resident Representative in Lebanon Robert Watkins said that the creation of the draft demonstrated Lebanon’s commitment to the 1948 declaration.
The document now needs to be discussed and endorsed by Parliament, before the legal technicalities are dealt with by the relevant ministries, a process which has been given until 2019 to be completed.
If fully carried out, Watkins said the implementation would improve security and stability in Lebanon, improve accountability and the rule of law, and help “address the root causes of poverty and gender quality.”
In light of Monday’s launch of the draft plan, Watkins said, now might be an appropriate time for Lebanon to ratify those few remaining human rights conventions it has not yet ratified, such as the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and those which protect the rights of migrant workers and refugees, areas which, he said, had been neglected in the action plan.
If endorsed by Parliament, the plan will include the establishment of an independent, national human rights committee which would work alongside the government to help it adhere to international obligations.
The latest Human Rights Watch annual global report highlighted numerous violations in Lebanon, from torture, prison conditions, the rights of women, refugees and migrant workers, and freedom of expression.
The national action plan, if ratified, “will fill many legal loop holes ... and will be a guarantee for all citizens, regardless of their confession or background,” said Michel Moussa, Amal MP for the Zahrani district, and head of the human rights parliamentary committee, who stressed that it was now the duty of all MPs and ministries to work toward the full implementation of the draft plan.
The wide-ranging document covers justice – outlawing torture, bringing forward trials, calling for the replacement of the death penalty with life imprisonment except in the case of the most severe crimes, improving prison conditions, exempting civilians from military trials, and civil and political rights – ensuring freedom of expression and association, among other things.
In terms of social and economic rights, the plan recommends cooperation between all relevant authorities to ban child labor and would guarantee equal access to social security for all citizens, among other points.
As far as women’s rights are concerned, the draft plan recommends the creation of a law banning discrimination against women, one that bans domestic violence and implementing an increase in maternity leave. In terms of the nationality issue, the draft plan would see widowed Lebanese women allowed to pass their citizenship on to children, under 18, born to foreign fathers.
Metn MP Ghassan Moukheiber, from the Free Patriotic Movement, who is rapporteur for the parliamentary human rights committee, said it was essential that the document now moves forward.
Calling the production of the lengthy plan a “first in the history of Lebanon,” Moukheiber said that, “We hope it’s not just left in a drawer but that it will help all those who are victims of human rights violations,” and that Parliament must now “concentrate on these issues, not just today but every day.”
Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East echoed this sentiment.
While he said the document was weak in some elements, he said it contains many positive clauses, but that key now was to ensure that the details became a reality, and that human rights were not something just to be celebrated annually on Dec. 10.
The challenge now, Houry said, is “how do you turn this from an exercise drafted by a few members of Parliament into a document that is going to bind and be a root for successive governments in Lebanon?”
Until now, Houry added, the fact that human rights has not been top of the political agenda for most parliamentarians, and the general, ongoing lack of engagement have contributed to the neglect of this vital issue.
It was vital now to attract the support of many more parliamentarians, Houry added, pointing out there were more audience members than MPs in attendance at Monday’s launch.
“If it’s just going to be an exercise for Dec. 10 in front of ambassadors and media, it will fail in its objective. And that’s the challenge for the next period.”