BEIRUT: Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, poor living conditions for refugees, and insufficient rights for migrant workers and women were among the issues highlighted Thursday in the Lebanon chapter of Human Rights Watch’s annual report.
The 2013 report discusses the stagnation of several draft laws in Parliament last year, in particular bills designed to protect women from domestic violence, end torture and improve the treatment of migrant domestic workers.
“Despite repeated pledges by the Lebanese government to prevent torture and ill-treatment, accountability remains elusive,” the report says. The human rights body said it had heard accounts from a “number of former detainees, including refugees, migrants, drug users, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, and sex workers,” that they were mistreated while under arrest or in detention.
In July, the Internal Security Forces raided a cinema suspected of screening gay and pornographic films and arrested 36 men, some of whom were subjected to anal examinations while in custody. This, HRW says, is in violation of the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Lebanon has ratified.
This led Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi and the Syndicate of Doctors to call for an end to the procedure.
Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers protesting outside the UNHCR in August said they were kicked, insulted and threatened by ISF members, the document says, while Lebanese activists at two separate protests – one for electoral reform and one for civil marriage – were attacked by security forces in September outside Parliament.
In October, 72 male migrant workers were beaten by security forces in Geitawi, and 11 were detained without specific charges, the report says.
The report singles out Lebanon’s prisons, which are notoriously overcrowded. It points out that although Lebanon ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in 2008, which calls for the creation of a “national preventive mechanism to visit and monitor places of detention,” nothing has changed.
The biggest prison, Roumieh, is already at double capacity, with some 3,000 inmates in a space originally designed for 1,500. This has led to numerous, often deadly, riots over the last few years.
On Palestinian refugees, HRW underlines that despite a labor law amendment that was meant to open up employment opportunities, 2012 saw “no improvement in their access to the official labor market” where they are barred from entering 25 professions which require syndicate membership. Overall, the 300,000 Palestinian refugees in the country live “in appalling social and economic conditions,” the report adds.
For their Syrian counterparts, who officially number around 200,000, HRW says that the lack of official refugee status contributes to a sense of “feeling insecure, particularly following the kidnappings of Syrians and other retaliatory attacks in August for the kidnapping of Lebanese by armed opposition groups in Syria.”
Similarly excluded from labor legislation, the estimated 200,000 migrant domestic workers in the country are at risk of exploitation and abuse, according to the rights body, and “face legal obstacles, and risk imprisonment and deportation due to the restrictive visa system” if they sue their employers.
The report also highlights the gap in women’s rights. “Discriminatory provisions that significantly harm and disadvantage women continue to exist in personal status laws, determined by an individual’s religious affiliation,” which can render access to divorce and child custody easier for men.
HRW also cited a lack of nationality rights for women, which prevents them from passing their citizenship on to their children, and the stalling in Parliament, since 2010, of a draft law on domestic violence and the omission of a clause relating to marital rape.
In terms of regional pressure on Lebanon, “Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia maintain a strong influence on Lebanese politics through their local allies,” the report says.
While the U.S. and the EU provide assistance, from military training to civil society, “these countries have not fully used their leverage to push Lebanon to adopt concrete measures to improve its human rights record, such as investigating specific allegations of torture or adopting laws that respect the rights of refugees or migrant workers.”