Lebanon: HRW calls on elections candidates to take stand on human rights

In a new report presented at a press conference in Beirut on Wednesday, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch urged candidates in the upcoming Lebanese parliamentary elections to make pledges on human rights issues in their electoral platforms. HRW also called on media workers in Lebanon to foster greater dialogue on rights issues with elections candidates.
Nadim Houry (cener) speaking at a a press conference in Beirut. Houry is flanked by Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East division at HRW. © Alex Sandels

BEIRUT, May 12, 2009 (MENASSAT)- A ten page-report issued by the rights group, Human Rights Watch is urging Lebanese candidates in the upcoming June parliamentary elections to commit to human rights issues in their electoral platforms, the group said during a press conference in Beirut on Wednesday (May 13).

The report, “Lebanon’s 2009 Parliamentary Elections: A Human Rights Agenda," focuses on five pressing areas of human rights issues in Lebanon:

"Torture in detention, the 'disappeared' from the civil war, discrimination against women, ill-treatment of foreign domestic workers, and discrimination against Palestinian refugees."

Election fever

With election fever fully in gear in Lebanon, HRW is calling on Lebanon’s political parties and candidates to present outlines to improve Lebanon’s human rights record and vow to enforce its obligations under human rights laws.

The report provides a number of recommendations to the Lebanese authorities on how to tackle rights issues.

So far, in HRW’s opinion, Lebanon’s political parties have shown little interest in addressing human rights issues in their electoral platforms.

“Lebanese politicians need to move beyond their slogans of promoting ‘justice, reform, and equality’ and start explaining exactly how they plan to achieve those objectives,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East division at HRW.

Since the last elections four years ago, HRW maintains that the Lebanese authorities have taken certain measures to ameliorate the human rights situation in the country, but that many of these initiatives have fallen through.

With Lebanon enjoying a state of relative “stability,” now is the time to address rights issues, Whitson said.

“Lebanon’s recurring bouts of instability, occupation, and war have often delayed necessary and overdue reforms. Lebanon’s leaders should take advantage of the current stability to show that they are serious about building a state that protects human rights."

Torture and “disappearances”

While Lebanon signed the Convention against Torture in 2000, HRW claims that torture and ill-treatment still constitute a “serious problem” in the country’s jails and detention centers.

The government ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture in December 2008, but HRW claims the authorities are still “unwilling” to prosecute those accused of torture practices.

In its recommendations, HRW called on the Ministry of Interior to make public  the results of the recent investigations into allegations of torture in Lebanese prisons.

On the subject of the thousands of people who disappeared during Lebanon’s civil war, the organization called on the joint Syrian-Lebanese committee that was set up to investigate cases of “disappearances” that involve Syrian security services.

HRW called on the committee to make official all the information the body has collected since 2005.

The HRW report also says that national-unity government pledges signed at the Doha Peace agreement in 2008 to uncover the fate of the “disappeared” have failed to be implemented.

Women’s rights and Palestinian refugees

HRW expressed concerns over what it calls the “discriminatory provisions” against women in the Lebanese law.

Among other issues, the current provisions make it impossible for Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their children and spouses.

Thousands of children born to Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers are not granted full rights to residency, education, and health care as a result.

In the report, HRW also called on the Ministry of Labor to set up an “inspection unit” to oversee the recently drafted contract for migrant domestic workers, which was initiated to protect the workers from ill-treatment.

HRW also urged the political parties to deal with broader rights problems in Lebanon, such as ending the discriminatory practices against Palestinian refugees.

Palestinians are still denied property in Lebanon and are subject to work restrictions that paralyze their money-making potentials.

When asked about the media, HRW’s Lebanon Researcher Nadim Houry told MENASSAT that journalists were the caretakers of the situation.

He said that reporters should assure that political candidates follow up on their campaign promises where human rights was concerned.

Political press conferences keep it too local. "Push the candidates to outline what they have splashed on their elections billboards. But reporters have to ask how are they going about to implement them?” he said.