BEIRUT: Lebanon has “no justification” for not signing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) or establishing mechanisms to prosecute gender crimes, MP Ghassan Mukhaiber said Friday.
Lebanon and the Arab countries “don’t take law seriously,” said Mukhaiber, who is also the rapporteur of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee.
He was speaking at the opening of a two-day regional workshop on the International Criminal Court and gender crimes.
The workshop, organized by Justice without Frontiers, No Peace without Justice, Coalition for the International Criminal Court and the European Union, is the first of its kind to take place in the region.
The ICC, which entered into force in 2002, is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
It was established through the Rome Statute treaty, which 110 countries have signed, and is the first international covenant to explicitly recognize gender violence.
Arab countries are all, to varying degrees, victims of Israeli aggression, and would thus benefit from signing the Rome Statute, Mukhaiber said, adding that Lebanon could use it to push for a “serious review” of Israeli conduct during a 34-day war in July-August 2006.
“I don’t think there is anything that can justify why Lebanon has not signed the statute,” he said.
In March last year, Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar said Lebanon had no immediate plans to join.
The Coalition for the International Criminal Court has said the decision was because of considerable pressure from the US, which along with Israel “unsigned” the statute in 2002, who thought it could lead to the prosecution of Israelis in any future conflict.
There is a distinct “lack of political will” among Arab states to join the statute, said Brigitte Chelebian, president of Justice without Frontiers. Only Djibouti, the Comoros and Jordan have signed the statute and very few Arab states send delegates to IIC conferences.
“This gives perpetrators an additional motive to repeat their crimes,” she said. “We urge President Michel Sleiman to join … as part of a Lebanese defense strategy.”
Recognition of gender-based violence or gender crimes is relatively new to international law, noted Alphonsine Abia, an associate victims expert in the ICC’s office of the prosecutor. Gender crimes that can be prosecuted by the ICC as a war crime and/or a crime against humanity include rape and forced marriage, prostitution, pregnancy or sterilization.
“In my view, achieving gender justice should be regarded as a global project,” she said.
Violence against women is not only the most pervasive human rights abuse across the world but also the most unpunished and underreported.
The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of all women have been coerced into sex, beaten, or otherwise abused, often by someone known to them. Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to be raped or experience violence than cancer, war or car accidents, the World Bank has said.
There are few statistics about gender-based violence in Lebanon, where talk of domestic violence remains a taboo. Legislation is inherently patriarchal: the penal code has no specific laws relating to domestic violence and does not recognize marital rape as a crime.
Rapists can be pardoned if they propose to their victims and the law grants extenuating sentences to men found to have killed a female family member to preserve the family “honor.”
As recently as last Friday, a man was arrested for murdering his 24-year-old sister for allegedly having a boyfriend.
A family violence law drafted by KAFA, a local organization aiming to combat violence and exploitation against women and children, was recently submitted to Parliament. If introduced, the bill would see the opening of special police stations and courts to handle family violence cases and require anyone who witnesses violence to report it.