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Human Rights and Parliamentary Development in Lebanon

 

A.        Context:
 
1.         Overview of the Lebanese parliament and the political context
Lebanon is a parliamentary republic, independent since 1943, whose head of state called President of the Republic, a Maronite Christian, is elected by Parliament. The Lebanese constitution was enacted in 1926, mainly following the pattern of the French Third Republic, modified in 1990 following the so called “Taef Accords” that have formalized the end of 15 years long destructive wars, caused and fueled by many domestic and regional factors and protagonists. The constitution provides for three separate and independent branches of government: a unicameral legislature called Chamber of Deputies (“Parliament”), an executive vested in a collegial body called Council of Ministers (“Government”) and the judiciary represented by the various courts and their administrating bodies. The constitution provides that the system is based on the principle of the separation of powers (i.e branches of government) and their cooperation. Formally and informally, the whole political system is characterized by communitarian apportionment of political positions as well as of the major administrative, diplomatic, military and judicial positions, following a complex communitarian apportionment system.
Parliament consists of 128 deputies, equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives; within this parity system, representation is also in pro-rata to the various sub-religious community main groups. The speaker is a Shi’ite Muslim, the vice-speaker an Orthodox Christian. Parliament has 16 standing committees, of which one on human rights and another on women and children rights. There is no separation between the functions of deputy and minister; most parliamentary blocs are represented in the Council of Ministers.  For a multiplicity of reasons, the role of parliament as monitor of the action and policies of government is little effective. As an illustration, during the whole of 2003, Parliament held no plenary meeting for general political debate and one single meeting for two written questions. Most parliamentary activities are centered on the committees whose meetings unfortunately are not public.
The Council of Ministers has a variable number of members (currently 24 ministers) whose appointment follow a complex mix of religious, political, and regional representational factors; the religious apportionment is based on the Parliament’s pattern. The Prime Minister is a Sunni Muslim appointed by the President of the Republic following mandatory consultations with Members of Parliament; the process was equated to a secret ballot vote with the President. It was often said that the Council of Ministers is a mini-parliament, in terms of representation of the main blocs. The Prime Minister chairs the meetings of the Council of Ministers, unless the President of the Republic is in attendance, in which case the latter chairs the meeting. The public administration is widely considered as largely corrupt and inefficient.
The judiciary is formed of a multiplicity of courts, governed by various judicial authorities, mainly the following: common (civil and criminal), administrative, military. There are also a number of specialized courts mainly: the Constitutional Council (having jurisdiction over the control of statutes voted by parliament and the review of elections), the Judicial Council (having jurisdiction over cases deferred by the Council of Ministers) and the High Court (having jurisdiction to try the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and Ministers for a limited number of cases; it is formed half by members of parliament and half by high ranking judges, chaired by the head of the supreme court. The judiciary is in principle independent; however, in practice, it was subject to political pressure. The most common saying in Lebanon goes that “the judiciary is not independent, there are independent judges”. Many decisions rendered by a number of courts in a multiplicity of cases, particularly in the Constitutional Council, the Administrative Court and criminal courts, have shown that given proper independence from political interference, Lebanese courts could discharge the role of effective monitor and protector of fundamental freedoms and human rights. However, in many instances where political intervention was evident and courts and judges responsive to pressure, the same jurisdictions failed to live-up to their expected role. This is why, the issue of the independence and effectiveness of the judiciary in Lebanon, is at the forefront of the required reforms and is very often at the heart of political debate.
Non-Lebanese military and paramilitary forces retained significant influence over much of the country. Approximately 15,000 to 17,000 Syrian troops were stationed in locations throughout the country, excluding the south. An undetermined number of Syrian military intelligence personnel in the country conduct their activities independently. Syria is exerting a high level of influence and control over Lebanese politicians and institutions. In 2000, following the Israeli army’s withdrawal from the south, the Government deployed more than 1,000 police and soldiers to the former security zone. Palestinian groups, including armed factions, operated autonomously in refugee camps throughout the country.
Lebanon enjoys a free market economy, with no controls on the movement of capital and foreign exchange. Its population of approximately 4.4 million had an estimated active labor force of 1.5 million, the majority of which were employed in the service sector and in a small industrial sector. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth was estimated at approximately 2 to 2.5 percent. While there were no reliable government statistics, most analysts estimated unemployment at 20 to 25 percent. The emigration rate is very high, particularly among the educated youth. The country is undergoing serious economic difficulties, with a very high public debt equaling 34 billion US Dollars approximately (owed mostly to Lebanese domestic creditors, half of which however is in foreign currency).
Civil society and its related organizations (including labor unions and the media) are very dynamic and vibrant. There are thousands of existing organizations involved in all sorts of activities, many of which involve advocacy in areas of human rights, good governance and environment. There are practically no legal or administrative hindrances to the local or foreign funding of organizations. However, the liberal law governing the free incorporation and management of associations (CSOs) is subject to numerous and consistent violations. Political parties are equally numerous and active, however, there are the most prone to reflecting the religious divide of the country as relatively few parties maintain a truly religiously mixed membership. The individual personalities of political leaders, in most cases, overweight the value of the party structures or political agendas. Main Christian opposition political formations, namely the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, are legally or de-facto banned and are subject to recurring repressive actions. Advocacy campaign led by CSOs with the participation of political parties have been unevenly successful; political authorities are generally little responsive to pressure.
There is no national human rights commission. However, there are two national commissions that were established to monitor the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) and the Convention for the Rights of the Child; the membership of these committees are a mix of representatives of ministries and CSOs, with no parliamentary representation. A number of parliamentary committees, particularly the Committee for the Rights of the Child and the Human Rights Committee, invite representatives of these committees to attend some of their meetings, together with some other specialized human rights CSOs.
 
2.                  Overview of the national legal framework for the promotion and protection of human rights:
 
Lebanon has consistently been expressing its official pride that its representative at the United Nations in 1958, Dr. Charles Malek, has been one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”). Since then, Lebanon has ratified all major international human rights treaties. Also, as part of the constitutional modifications of 1990 following the Taef Accords, the newly added preamble had solemnly affirmed the commitment of Lebanon to uphold the principles of the UDHR and translate its provisions in all fields.
 
Such new constitutional commitment to uphold international standards of human rights is reinforcing a number of constitutional provisions that were already incorporated in the Constitution since 1926, covering the most fundamental freedoms under a chapter titled “the Lebanese, their Rights and their Duties”.
 
Parliament had never played any role in human rights reporting. Most recently, the undersigned submitted a written parliamentary question to the Government, raising the issue of the long delays it is taking the Government to submit the official country reports relating to Civil and Political Rights as well as to slavery; there is yet no response, although the legal deadline has lapsed. There are only two national committees that prepare the country report under the CEDAW and the Convention of the Rights of the Child, albeit with no direct or indirect participation of parliament.
 
In 1995, Parliament created a new standing Human Rights Committee, which was chaired first by Mr. Joseph Moghaizel, a human rights lawyer and head of the Lebanese Human Rights Association. This Committee is competent in the study of all human rights related matters in both the legislative and oversight functions. It regularly invites human rights associations and representatives of the concerned ministries to attend and participate in deliberations. The parliamentary Human Rights Committee conducted in 2000 a series of field visits to prisons and drafted a report on the state of prisons in Lebanon, which was never made public. It has decided by the end of February 2004 to do another survey with media coverage (please refer to the table reporting briefly on the activities of the Human Rights Committee - attached as Appendix A).
 
Parliament does not access or utilize information on human rights within the country. Issues of domestic Human Rights in Lebanon are rarely, if ever, debated in plenary meetings of Parliament that are very rare. Individual members (mostly opposition) sometimes raise a number of issues, based on their individual knowledge and data. Relatively non-contentious issues of Human Rights violations in Palestine and Irak get very widespread attention, considered politically correct by the majority, unlike the public debate relating to domestic violations.
 
 
3.         The UNDP parliamentary development program:
 
The Lebanese Parliament is benefiting from an ongoing parliamentary development program under a cooperation agreement with the UNDP and a strong partnership with the French Senate (“the UNDP Program”). This UNDP led project called Strengthening of the Structures of the Parliament, was launched in 1999 with the aim of sustaining the efforts of the Lebanese Parliament to setting up the structures, mechanisms and human resources, in order to increase the efficiency of the exercise in terms of legislation, oversight and representation. The Program provided a platform for dialogue between parliamentarians with the executive Government, the private sector, civil society, the UN system agencies and the donor community. The following four goals were articulated for the Program:
 
  1. Strengthening the capacity of members of parliament to access information and use it in the legislative process.
  2. Improve the oversight capacity of Parliament over the Government
  3. Develop the participation of civil society organizations in the legislative process
  4. Assist the emergence of an Arab and international parliamentarian cooperation.
 
 
Activities implemented under goal 1:
 
    • Building a data base about social and economic information
    • Developing the Parliament’s library (including documents, books and IT management systems).
    • Drafting, publication and distribution to all parliamentarians and committees, of sectorial studies, including one about human rights in general and another about women rights.
    • Abridging existing studies, including one about human rights and human development.
    • Offering research services
    • Organizing workshops and conferences on variety of developmental topics, including about municipalities, water, development of regions, education, school health, gender, public transportation.
    • Training of staff and parliamentarians on a multiplicity of skills.
    • Providing technical assistance in the drafting of some draft legislation.
    • Assisting in the publication of a monthly parliamentary newsletter.
    • Publication of a quarterly magazine on international developmental issues.
    • Assisting in the development of Parliament’s web-site
 
 
Activities implemented under Goal 2:
 
  • A study was done about the written questions submitted to the Government and published in the Parliament’s newsletter.
  • In 2001-2002 the project expanded to include pertinent legislations in its discussion/seminar modality. This has created some examples of Parliamentary oversight on the executive branch through the communication of expected outputs and guidelines for project implementation in certain sectors.
 
 
Activities implemented under Goal 3:
 
  • Committees were provided with a list of related active CSOs
  • CSOs were regularly invited to most conferences and workshops, particularly those related to development.
 
It is worth mentioning that this third goal could not be developed because of a CSO called the “Parliamentary Forum” which was claiming, in agreement with Parliament, exclusive responsibility for developing the cooperation and dialogue with CSOs. Unfortunately, the latter organization is not very active and has further strayed from its original purpose for which it was established. So far, it has practically limited the impact and activities of the UNDP Program under Goal 3.
 
Activities implemented under Goal 4:
 
  • Organized a series of Arab regional conferences about the development of the legislative Parliamentary work, budgeting process and about capacity building for parliaments in the WTO accession process. The proceedings of the conferences were published in books.
  • Provided a list of Arab parliamentary web-sites and distributed to parliamentarians.
  • Installed conference and translation facilities in the Library hall used for conferences and workshops.
  • Organized study tours for parliamentarians and staff members to European parliaments.
 
The UNDP Project provided a dynamic platform for information sharing among parliamentarians, coordinating reviews of development projects and sectoral national priorities in the areas of regional development, education, health, environment, water, transportation, poverty, and others. But most and foremost, it has had the benefit of existing and asserting its role through confidence-building incremental measures and projects.
 
Although some effort was done to frame development within a right-based approach, the other areas of core human rights, particularly Civil and Political rights were rarely addressed because of their political connotation in light of their many violations in Lebanon. To illustrate this cautious approach, it is worth mentioning that the publication of a special information report about human rights was closely scrutinized by close aids of the Speaker.
 
The UNDP Project was evaluated between the partners a number of times. It was originally planned to end in 2002. At this date, the two parties agreed to extend it for a new three years period (2002-2005) and to focus on the following objectives:
 
  • Reinforce the Parliamentary Committees and the parliamentarian’s capacity of access to information.
  • Alignment of national laws to international treaties, oversight of the Governement’s programs, improvement of relationship with CSOs and support regional development.
  • Reinforce the capacity of the Parliamentary administration, particularly the department of research and studies and the Committee’s directorate.
  • Develop the Parliamentary information and communication.
  • Provide support for the regional and international role of Parliament (it is worth noting in this context that the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament is currently the Chairman of the Arab Parliamentary Union).
 
In addition to the above, the undersigned recommends adding the following components to the UNDP Program:
 
  • Increase the targeting thematic discussions to assist more directly the legislative process as opposed to organizing general discussions.
  • Include a clearly articulated human-rights based approach to legislation.
  • Activate a full program for Parliament-CSO engagement, cooperation and dialogue.
  • Seek the participation of a focus group of parliamentarians in the evaluation of the UNDP Program.
 
 
 
B.        Legislative Functions:
 
The Lebanese Parliament has ratified all major international human rights treaties. Also, as part of the constitutional modifications of 1990 following the Taef Accords, the newly added preamble has solemnly affirmed the commitment of Lebanon to uphold the principles of the UDHR and translate its provisions in all fields as follows: 
 
“… b. Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its association. It is a founding and active member of the League of Arab States and abides by its pacts and covenants. Lebanon is also a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government shall embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.

c. Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic Republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinions and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination…”
 
These new provisions of the constitution’s preamble were interpreted by the Constitutional Council in a number of cases, as having given the UDHR and all the rights that are declared therein constitutional value, against which all legislation can be controlled and eventually annulled if in contradiction.
 
Such new constitutional commitment to uphold international standards of human rights is reinforcing a number of constitutional provisions that were already incorporated in the Constitution since 1926, covering the most fundamental freedoms under a chapter titled “the Lebanese, their rights and their duties”. These rights are: equality (Art. 7), individual liberty and due process of law (Art. 8), freedom of conscience and religion (Art. 9), freedom of education (Art. 10), freedoms of expression, press, reunion and association (Art. 13), inviolability of domicile (Art. 14), right to property (Art. 15).
 
Rights of minorities (essentially th various religious communities) are particularly well respected and protected, both by law and practice, to a very large extent; so much that the Lebanese system was correctly described as being founded on communitarianism, or even as a federation of religious communities, particularly in matter of personal status laws (family laws). The constitutional foundation of such system is found in Article 9 [Conscience, Belief] that is drafted as follows:
 
“There shall be absolute freedom of conscience. The state in
rendering homage to the Most High shall respect all religions and creeds and guarantees, under its protection, the free exercise of all religious rites provided that public order is not disturbed. It also guarantees that the personal status and religious interests of the population, to whatever religious sect they belong, is respected. “
 
Practically all legislation have followed, is scrupulously protecting the rights of religious communities in all matters such as education, access to civil service and elections. The heads of religious communities were granted the exceptional right to seize the Constitutional Council to request the annulment of any law that would be found inconsistent with the protected interests of the religious communities which they represent.
 
Lebanon has a tradition of a vibrant free and independent press, both the printed and the audio-visual media. However, the proper assessment of the freedom of the press and opinion would, from a legislative perspective, show mixed results, that oscillate between positive and negative areas. For instance, the formation of newspapers and magazines require an administrative prior license, considered as unconstitutional. However, the pre-1955 law period saw the creation of hundreds of newspapers and magazines that are still very active today, giving the impression that there are too many press organs, not too few. Also, the law provides for special provisions applicable to the so called “political” press, which in itself is also unconstitutional, because it is indefinable and prone to abusive interpretation. On both issues, Parliament will soon be called to correct these legislative inconsistencies and will be challenged in its capacity to uphold constitutional and international standards of freedom of the press.
 
However, in another matter of inconsistency and under pressure from the very influential press unions, Parliament repealed a legal provision making it impossible to detain a journalist preventively for an alleged press related crime. But most of all, there is a very strong culture and tradition of freedom among Lebanese journalists that truly act as a deterrent of violations. Members of the media a strongly present in Parliament, and a few programs have been implemented or are currently planned by the UNDP Program, to build the capacity of parliamentary journalism.
 
Lebanon also enjoys a very long tradition of respect for the freedom of association, assembly and reunion. The formation and management of associations is governed by a very liberal law dating back to 1909. Since then, many laws were voted by parliament that has diminished the level of protection allowed for the freedom of associations for a number of specific associations (e.g. foreign, youth and sports), however, the main corpus of law in generally consistent with standards of freedom of association. A civil society led initiative is calling on the protection of the current 1909 law from the systematic violations of its provisions by the Ministry of Interior, and is calling on Parliament not to change the law but to call for its scrupulous implementation. This recommendation reflects in part, the fear that the legislative intervention of Parliament would involve less consistency rather than more, with the standards of freedom of association.
 
The constitutional and treaty provisions are not always appropriately reflected in legislation and statutes. There are many cases where laws violate the constitutional and international standards of human rights (e.g. the free incorporation of trade unions, the creation of printed press organs including leaflets, freedom to demonstrate). However, it must be pointed out that most violations of human rights standards are also violation of domestic laws consistent with international human rights standards, that often go unchecked and properly remedied, both by courts or politically by parliament and government (e.g. status of prisons, the incorporation and management of associations, due process of criminal procedure).
 
The problem lies in the follow-up on the implementation of constitutional and international standards of human rights. The UNDP Program does not explicitly address such issue within its terms of reference. No explicitly human rights related projects were implemented in the context of the UNDP Program.
 
However, human rights standards were used as founding principles for a number of bills that were voted by Parliament, such as laws that established gender equality in a number of instances and the new Code of Criminal Procedure, whose introductory motivation text explicitly referred to constitutional and international human rights standards.
 
It is worth making a special note to the role of the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee, which has stated as a core part of its mandate, the review of all draft bills that are related to human rights. For instance, the Committee has reviewed the following bills as appearing in the agenda items of its meetings:
 
·         (5/5/1995) Draft bill related to the Judiciary Police Investigation
  • (15/11/1998) Laws amendments and their compatibility with Human Rights:
    • Criminal procedure
    • Expropriation
    • Generalization of municipalities
o   Military courts
·         (11/1/1999) Draft new Code of criminal procedure
·         (20/11/2001, 12 and 27/6/2002) Draft bill concerning the implementation of sanctions
·         (15/5/2002) Draft bill concerning the protection of delinquent children and children exposed to danger
 
However, the legislative work of the Committee is far from being sustained and exhaustive. Relatively little time is taken for the discussion of very important bills. Also, many other bills were never brought on the Commission’s agenda, such as the new draft criminal code (currently debated by the Law Commission), media related laws and bills relating to social and economic rights. It becomes critical within the Lebanese Parliament to better define the legislative role of the Human Rights Commission in order to automatically defer bills that it should be scrutinizing for consistency with international standards.
 
The overall legislative role of parliament is flawed in a number of areas. It is worth mentioning that the UNDP Program has organized a number of regional workshops about the legislative mechanisms, that have been useful to clarify the standards of legislations from a comparative perspective; however, a more particular attention needs to be given to the special case of Lebanon, in order to generate practical recommendations to that effect with a related action plan. The following is a highlight of the most important shortcomings in the legislative process, particularly as they impact the legislative role of Parliament in the promotion and defense of Human Rights.
 
The capacity of parliament itself, including its individual members and committees, to generate draft legislation and to manage the draft bills that are referred to it by the Government is generally poor. A number of factors can be summarily listed:
 
·         The underlying policy of draft bills is poorly elaborated and presented, almost never with any impact study (legal, social financial or economical) being done and presented to Parliament.
 
·         Members of parliament lack the individual and collective competent human resources for generating draft bills and appropriately manage the discussion and vote of bills elaborated by the Government. Few competent staff members assist committees in the discharge of their work. Most of their limited time is taken-up by meetings and administrative work; seldom no research is done in connection with the committee discussions. A research assistance program was set-up by the UNDP Program; however, it was not appropriately developed into a full fledged legislative support program for parliamentarians and committees.
 
·         Little time is dedicated to legislative work. Parliament rarely holds more than five legislative meetings per year (with an average of 8 to 12 hours each); staff works for a relatively limited time per day.
 
 
There are a number of positive factors that tend to correct some of the above-mentioned flaws, particularly the fact that committees hold participatory meetings with representatives of the concerned stakeholders. This practice reinforces a tradition of effective civil society parliamentary advocacy and lobbying. This helps the people’s interests, particularly pro-poor priorities, to make their way into legislation.
 
 
C.        Oversight Responsibilities:
 
The Oversight role of Parliament has been, generally speaking, poor for a number of reasons:
 
·         Major parliamentary groups are represented in Government which acts as a mini-parliament;
 
·         Oversight functions are performed by heads of large parliamentary/religious community groups, that also happen to be the heads of constitutional bodies (i.e. speaker of Parliament and Prime Minister), who together with the President of the republic act in many cases as a “troika” leadership;
 
·         The intervention of Syrian officials in internal Lebanese affairs;
 
·         A weak, fragmented and little organized opposition groups and parliamentarians (i.e. not represented in Government).
 
Technically speaking, all of the above reasons resulted in the disfunctioning of various parliamentary mechanisms of oversight:
 
1.      General meetings of Parliament called for political debate have been rare. For instance, Parliament held no meeting in 2003 for general political debate.
 
2.      Meetings to discuss written questions or interpellations addressed to the Government have also been rare (only one meeting to discuss two interpellations was scheduled throughout 2003). Many human rights related written questions are left unanswered, particularly one about the Lebanese detainees in Syria and another about the delays in the submission of the Lebanese official reports to human Rights treaty based institutions.
 
3.      Many Parliamentarians use extensively written questions and interpellations over many issues. These often receive good press coverage. However, the problem resides in the very long delays for the Governments response, way past the legal delays; on many instances, the Government simply fails to answer. There is no automatic system to submit the questions and answers to a public debate.
 
4.      The only compensation allowing for parliamentarians public political statements during Parliamentary meetings, broadcast live on television, have been limited to two venues: (i) a few minutes allowed for each Member prior to meetings having a legislative agenda (four such meetings were held in the course of 2003); (ii) and a thirty to sixty minutes speech at the onset of the budget debate. Needless to note that the subjects addressed by the Parliamentarians comments, are extremely varied and therefore generate an unfocused discussion; thus such meetings lead to no significant answers from the Government.
 
Parliament does not participate in the prevention, monitoring of and intervention in cases of arbitrary exercise of power through any independent body, other than the judiciary. Lebanon has no independent human rights commission, although some discussions are currently starting to the effect of introducing such institution. Also Lebanon has no independent ombudsperson office, other than an “office for complaints” that was established within the President of the republic’s office. The Ministry of Administrative Reform has prepared a draft bill for an independent Ombudsman’s office to be called “Mediator of the Republic” that could independently hear complaints against any civil servant, including security personnel, and facilitate the resolution of disputes. Such draft bill has not yet been processed through Government and has not reached Parliament. Both an independent human Rights Commission and the Mediator of the Republic are recognized as very important institutions for the protection of human rights and the fight against public corruption. They should be created as soon as possible.
 
Parliamentary commissions of enquiry are possible under the current rules of order; although scarcely used for vary rare cases, none was appointed for any human rights related allegations. The budget approval process was never used as a monitoring mechanism for human rights realization. Also, in its review of government policies, budgets and the implementation of government programs, Parliament doesn’t take into consideration the human rights dimensions of economic policies and strategies. Whenever such rights are mentioned in a debate, it is used more in a rhetorical context than anything else.
 
Committees are the only parliamentary bodies that maintain an oversight role over the various competent ministries. The question and answer encounter over policy issues and law enforcement happens both in the legislative drafting and oversights meetings Committees holds with the ministers, judges and civil servants that it regularly summons to its numerous meetings. The Human Rights Committee has a special oversight role over all matters relating to human rights, including monitoring specific allegations of human rights.
 
The Human Rights Committee has investigated a number of specific allegations of human rights violations under a complaint role that it had inaugurated soon after its creation. Many such cases are brought to the attention of the Committee’s Chairman or its members in such capacity; others were also brought to the debate of the Committee as a whole. Unfortunately, such complaint role has very quickly faded with the change in chairmanship following the passing away of its first President, the human rights activist Joseph Moghaizel. Later, the Committee rarely, if ever handled in its meetings specific cases; To illustrate its complaint role, the following are a number of cases that the Committee has handled, as appearing in the Committees agenda:
 
13/12/2001      The report concerning 3000 adopted children in Europe, demanding to meet their parents and to have the Lebanese citizenship.
11/1/1999        Israeli breaches of Human Rights in Southern Lebanon
22/12/1997      Public liberties and the last incidents: Freedom of speech and Freedom of demonstration
7/4/1995          Complaints:
·         The General Security obligation for married women to show the written consent of their husbands to get a passport
·         Issue of the kidnapped child
·         kidnapping of a soldier in Lahad Army
·         A person dismissed from a school in the North
28/4/1995        Issue of an HIV positive in Ain El Helwe camp
5/5/1995          Complaints: Assassination and Kidnapping
 
 
The Human Rights Committee has also played a role in the monitoring of human rights in various forms and through a variety of actions. The following are some examples:
 
·         Investigative field visits: On the issue of prisons, the Committee has visited most prisons in Lebanon in 2000 and prepared a report on the state of prisons from a human rights perspective, which was never made public. It is currently planning this year to repeat the field visits with a team of accompanying media representatives.
 
·         Reporting about the state of human rights: the Committee has never done so; however, it is currently considering drafting such report, with the cooperation of a number of Lebanese human rights organizations.
 
·         Review of Human Rights Reports: this action has been recurrently happening as a discussion of the section about Lebanon in the report issued by the US State Department report about human rights. Most discussions have ended-up criticizing the US report, mostly with political motivations, particularly because the reviews of such reports are very selectively handled. Many other reports published by many organizations were never brought to the agenda of the Committee, including the reports of the Government to the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies.
 
·         Study and discussions of various issues: this type of action is the most common; it usually happens in the presence of representatives of the concerned ministries or governmental agencies and CSOs. The issues that have been handled by the Committee are varied, ranging from: Human Rights education in schools, rights of the elderly, detainees in Israeli prisons, fate and assistance of released detainees from Israeli jails, prisons and their management, gender equality, audio-visual media and equal opportunities during elections, Palestinian refugees rights, the death penalty, violations of due process of criminal procedure, Israeli violations of human rights. Since 2000, the new Committee has been paying less attention to domestic violations of human rights, and more to Israeli violations of human rights, both in Lebanon and in Palestine, as well as for the issues related to the war in Iraq. The Committee is currently re-shifting attention to domestic issues.
 
·         Public statements: the results of most meetings are public statements issued by the Committee, more often addressed to the public than to specific ministries or Government agency. There are rarely effective follow-up actions on the issues that are debated in meetings.
 
 
Parliament’s major involvement in economic and financial policy monitoring happens during the yearly elaboration and debate of the budget by the Finance Committee and later of the full house. The process is handled more technically rather than one encouraging public debate of policy options. CSOs have on a number of issues been pioneering in bringing the economic debate to the forefront of political issues; parliamentarians were invited and attended these CSO led initiatives.
 
Most rights-based and development requirement are mostly put forward by parliamentarians in the context of the budget elaboration and debate. Lobby efforts and interest groups can be quite effective in putting their interests forward. However, there is no systematic way in which social, economic and cultural rights are put systematically at the hart of the monitoring process of the budget allocation. The national budget process is thus not truly oriented towards realizing social and economic rights for marginalized groups. It does not include an examination of potentially discriminatory practices in either policies or budget allocations.
 
IFIs have not so far been forcing Lebanon into economic programs that the Government does not wish to pursue. This has been the case most recently in 2003, where Lebanon, with the assistance of France and a number of other countries convened a major international economic conference to assist Lebanon, known as the Paris II meeting. The results of this meetings were debated in Parliament after their finalization, with very little participation of Parliament in that process other than its taking note of what has happened.
 
There is a small group of parliamentarians that have become members of the Paris based Parliamentary Network on the World Bank (PNoWB). It is making efforts to have the World Bank involve Parliament in the process leading to the setting-up of its Country Assistance Strategy (CAS). Also, Parliament is participating in the monitoring of the efforts leading towards the implementation in Lebanon of the UN’s Millennium Goals.
 
In addition to the issues that were raised above, there remains a number of serious human rights related challenges facing parliament in its oversight role. In a post-conflict era, all three constitutional branches of government still face the challenge of the lack of confidence of the people. Most at stake are the issues relating to truth and reconciliation and to accountability and justice. Parliament and its Human Rights Committee will have to spearhead the efforts leading to addressing those critical and difficult issues.
 
 
D.                    Representation Roles:
 
1.         Summary of parliamentary representation experiences including consideration of the following:
·         Popular perception of the representative nature of the parliament (e.g. Does it represent all people, especially minority or ethnic groups? Is it seen to be an inclusive institution or one that serves the elites?)
·         Specific human rights initiatives undertaken by the parliament (e.g. sensitization of MPs, UNICEF/Rights of the Child Convention, HIV/AIDs coalitions, partnerships with NGOs, advocacy/watchdog groups, ombudpersons, national human rights commissions, policy reviews, etc. How have these been received? What made them successful initiatives? Where were the entry points into the Parliament- e.g. Speaker, committee chairs, caucuses, etc.).
·         The relationships between the Parliament and civil society.
 
Participation of the Human Rights Committee in Conferences: the Chairman and members of the Committee are very often invited to attend and speak in almost all conferences, workshops and meetings organized in Lebanon and relating in one way or another to human rights. The Committee itself has rarely been itself organizing conferences and meetings about issues it proactively selects, with the exception of the celebration of the International Day for Human Rights on December 10, 2002. This is expected to become a recurring meeting including all human rights CSOs active in Lebanon. Also, a number of ideas for conferences are being currently discussed.
 
 
·         The extent to which the parliament promotes and supports public awareness-raising about the laws it passes.
·         Parliamentary hearings and studies on key human rights issues, public dialogues, opportunities for public inputs to policies, legislation, budgets, etc. (e.g. What mechanisms have worked well: open committees, public hearings, town halls, etc.? What capacity development initiatives are needed/being pursued?)
·         Parliament's conduct of, or support for participatory human rights assessments of the impacts of policies and laws.
·         The accountability of the parliament to its constituents. (e.g. How does it report on its activities? Does it provide information to the public readily? Is it an open institution, can the public observe the working of the parliament?)
 
2.         What are some of the other country-level human rights considerations and challenges facing the parliamentarians in fulfilling their representative responsibilities?
 
 
 
 
 
E.        Observations/Recommendations:
 
 
1.         Parliamentary development programs can indeed enhance the protection and promotion of human rights within Lebanon indirectly by developing the legislative, oversight and representation roles of Parliament. Such development can reinforce the capacity of parliament in the holistic approach that is required to promote all types of first, second and third generations of human rights.
 
This is particularly true in Lebanon’s case through the capacity development of the various standing committees, whose work constitutes the core activity of Parliament, as well as the various conferences and workshops that enhance the needed encounter and cooperation between civil-society organizations and parliament.
 
To this end, the following specific recommendations can be made:
 
·         Introduce and assist in the management of an internship program for graduate university students that can quantitatively and qualitatively improve the work of commissions.
 
·         Develop a specific program, including a series of conferences and workshops, focusing on the parliamentary rules-of-order (by-laws) from a comparative perspective. This should aim at suggesting a thorough modification of the current rules that have shown extensive shortcomings that limit the functions of parliament.
 
·         Develop the Civil Society component of the UNDP Program that is currently halted for various historical and political reasons. Within such framework, the current cooperation between domestic, regional and international Human Rights organizations and Parliament, particularly its Human Rights Committee, should be reinforced and institutionalized.
 
2.                     Parliamentary development programs can also enhance the protection and promotion of human rights within Lebanon indirectly by developing an integrated human rights program. This can be achieved by clearly articulating an integrated human-right based strategic goals for the program. It is recommended that such value be achieved through an appropriate modification of the terms of reference of the Lebanese Parliamentary Program and the development of an action plan, including a series of human rights related activities. The right political approach, including the rights timing, will have to be taken into consideration.
 
To this end, the following specific recommendations can be made:
 
·         Introduce the promotion of all human rights as a strategic goal into the UNDPs Program Terms of Reference; use the human rights day (10th of December) that is currently celebrated by Parliament through its Human Rights Committee, as a date and venue to solemnly signify such Parliament’s commitment.
 
·         Give particular attention and resources for the capacity development of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.
 
·         Develop a human rights resource center within the Parliament’s library.
 
·         Promote the active participation of members of parliament in human rights and development related activities of independent commissions and working groups in which any UN agency is involved; e.g. national human rights reporting and monitoring commissions, Millennium Development Goals working groups.
 
·         Launch a study to screen the most human rights sensitive legislation and policies, to check for inconsistency with human rights standards, as a preliminary step to introducing draft legislation to remedy such inconsistencies. This study can be entrusted in part to the graduates participating in the internship program.
 
·         Promote -- through appropriate seminars, workshops and their follow-up activities -- the introduction of institutions that can directly impact the protection and the promotion of human rights. Namely the following two institutions should be tabled as draft bills:
 
o   the National Human Rights Institution
o   and the Mediator of the Republic (Ombudsman).
 
 
3.         It is a fact that does not need to be further argued or articulated, that the protection and promotion of human rights, is a fundamental condition for the healing of the multiplicity of problems that must be addressed in a post-conflict phase such as the one Lebanon is still undergoing at present. The most critical difficulties faced by such efforts are essentially twofold:
 
·         Their ability to publicly raise politically sensitive issues, almost taboo, if in contradiction with the ruling powers or interests (e.g. national reconciliation and the memory of war, fate of enforced disappearance cases in Syria, repression of political opposition including cases of violation of due process of criminal procedure).
 
·         The effectiveness of these efforts as some action may be developed by the human rights community, with no or very little responsiveness from the concerned authorities.
 
This is why the introduction human rights in a parliamentary development program can be a critically important effort that may successfully limit the negative impact of the above-mentioned difficulties, by putting critical or complex human right issues in the political institutional mainstream public debate, through parliament; and by so doing, increasing the level of responsiveness of the political establishment to the issues raised by civil society.
 
 
4.                     Many issue-based approaches can provide entry points for a human rights-based approach to developing the capacity of the Lebanese Parliament. This is all the more easier that a Human Rights Committee already exists and that a number of issues are already on the agenda. These can be brought forward and promoted in a first phase, e.g.: gender (particularly the area of women participation in politics), prisons, education, child labor, freedom of the press, death penalty, independence and effectiveness of the judiciary, the new draft criminal code. The question remains about how and when to address the most critical human rights issues, that are so far “not politically correct”, that require to be addressed in a second phase, e.g.: code of criminal procedure and due process in criminal law, enforced disappearance in Syria. Indicators or benchmarks are to be developed for each one of these Human Rights issues.



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