Rare court decision grants Lebanese mother the right to confer citizenship to her children

A court has granted a Lebanese woman the right to pass citizenship onto her three children, following the death of her foreign husband - a move that challenges Lebanon’s current nationality law. Women’s rights groups have hailed the ruling, referring to the move as an “important step forward” for equal citizenship rights in Lebanon.
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Samira Souweidan was granted the right to pass Lebanese citizenship onto her three children in a court ruling on Tuesday. © Al Akhbar

BEIRUT, June 19, 2009 (MENASSAT) - In a ground-breaking court ruling on Tuesday, Samira Souweidan was granted the right to pass citizenship onto her children, after the judges concluded that there is currently no legislation that prohibits a Lebanese woman to transfer her nationality to her children after the death of her husband, The Daily Star reported.
Under Lebanon’s current nationality law, which dates back to 1925, only Lebanese men married to foreign women can pass their nationality onto their spouses and children.  A Lebanese woman married to a foreigner, however, does enjoy the same right and is unable to confer her citizenship onto her husband and children. Those families consisting of a Lebanese mother and a foreign father face a myriad of legal obstacles in Lebanon, including access to health care, schooling and employment. They must also pay regular fees for Lebanese residency permits.

The judges involved in the case, John al-Azzi, Rana Habka and Lamis Kazma of the Jdeideh al-Metn court, also brought up Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution, which stipulates that all Lebanese citizens have equal rights before the law.

Speaking to the Daily Star, judge Azzi said the decision was “an achievement” and that he expects to see many similar court cases to follow after Tuesday’s verdict. He emphasized his “will” to change Lebanon’s current legislation on nationality, which he referred to as “not fair.”

In the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, Souweidan said that she struggled for a long time to pay for the permits necessary for her children to stay in Lebanon legally.  

“I used to work for an association to pay for the residency permits for my children to stay here. Sometimes I took loans with interest. One time, I was late in paying the permit fees for my children so they threatened to deport them. I will never forget that day. I cried a lot, and I was afraid I would die before fixing the status of my children.”

“When they were kids, I used to take them with me to help me with the cleaning jobs I had. But when they grew up I stopped, and I let them focus on their studies.”

Souweidan said that after the court decision came out she didn’t work because she was so happy, though sometimes she still fears that the decision will be revoked. 

“Yesterday I was afraid the decision would be withdrawn. But my lawyer Suha Ismail always encourages me and tells me to have faith, so I know things will go well.”

New parliament should uphold their promises

Expectedly, Lebanon’s women’s rights groups have welcomed Tuesday’s court decision.

“We believe this [ruling] is a very important step forward toward breaking the taboo on the issue of women's nationality rights,” said Zoya Rouhana of the women's rights group KAFA.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the women’s rights campaign group, "My nationality is a right for me and my family” referred to the court decision as a “bold move.”

Nadim Houry, Lebanon Researcher at Human Rights Watch, also welcomed the decision, saying the move recognized the discrimination that exists in Lebanese law. Meanwhile, he emphasized the need for a change in the nationality law.

“We welcome any decision that promotes the rights of women and children. But the outcome remains limited. This (ruling) does not preclude the need for a law that doesn’t discriminate between men and women. I hope there will be more space for judicial action to promote these rights,” Houry told MENASSAT. 

Lebanese rights group have for several years lobbied before the country’s politicians for an amendment to the nationality law, and in the past year there has been a surge in media coverage on the issue.

Houry believes there has been an “absence of a political will to enact a change in the law.” He urges Lebanon’s new Parliament, that was formed after the recent elections, to stand by the promises made by the political blocks on human rights issues.

“The new parliament, especially the various blocked, should not forget the promises they’ve made,” he concluded.