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DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAW

 

 
"DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAW”
 
 
THE CAIRO CONFERENCE
 
7 - 9 December 1997
 
 
THE ROLE OF NGO’S IN UPHOLDING
THE RULE OF LAW IN LEBANON:
EFFORTS AND HURDLES
 
 
 
BY: GHASSAN MOUKHEIBER
ATTORNEY AT LAW
 
 
 
 
INTRODUCTION
 
 
The concept of the Rule of Law is referred to in Lebanon in arabic as Daulat Al Kanuun (meaning literally: the state, or country, of the law) to mean that the state is ruled by law. Many times, the concept of institutions is appended to it, i.e. Daulat Al Kanuun Wal Muassasaat (meaning the state of the law and institutions), in order to de-emphasize further the role of individual persons in the role of governing the state.
 
The importance of the role of citizens, civil society and particularly of organizations in upholding the Rule of Law (tie that up to democracy) La democratie continue. The added value orf organizations over individuals (while recognizing the importance of the efforts of individuals in upholding the rule of law).
 
The scope of this paper is to show the action undertaken by the Lebanese civil society in its efforts to uphold the Rule of law: its strengths and weakness, the efforts and the hurdles.
 
 
 
 
 
 
THE EFFORTS
 
 
I.          INSTITUTIONAL ACTION:
 
1. The Efforts:
 
The special characteristic and strength of the Lebanese civil society and associations (the importance of the 1909 Associations Law) … my definition of civil society.
 
The NGOs that are particularly concerned with the issue of upholding the Rule of Law: the press, the Bar association, HR org., political parties and organizations, cultural organizations, research centers, religious communities …
 
 
2. The Hurdles: Direct and indirect pressures on the NGOs
 
Pressures are being put on the freedom of the NGO’s action:
 
Upon incorporation: difficulties in the incorporation process: change from a free incorporation process to a licencing process. New extensive interpretation of politics and political organisations; Particular dislike of HR Organizations.
 
On activities: allegations that the reporting activities of HR Org. are tarnishing Lebanon’s image abroad, that their allegations are unfounded, that they are rocking stability and peace.
 
Fear to tackle a number of issues: security v/s law and human rights
 
 
 
II.        EDUCATION AND REPORTING:
 
 
1. The Efforts:
 
A theoretical presentation of the importance of education and reporting (both faces of the same coin). The importance of making an issue out of the rule of law. Turning the law and court hearings into a social and political fact.
 
Audio visual media: talk shows and interactive Radio and TV programs (Marcel’s radio program on Voice of Free Lebanon; the incorporation of lawyers in virtually all talk shows e.g. El Shater Yehki; Programs transmitting complaints of citizen to the civil servants in charge (started very early during wartime with Khalil Sassi on VDL).
 
Printed media: the Orient Express special edition of the Rule of law; newspapers publishing draft bills and inciting a public debate by inviting legal opinion.
 
Research institutes and cultural organizations: e.g. LCPS conferences on the Judiciary,
 
Human rights organizations: publication of booklets,
 
Universities
 
Political parties and political organisation: LADE,
 
 
2. The Hurdles:
 
Problems with the follow-up (the interest of the media is relatively short lived)
 
 
 
III.       LOBBYING AND PRESSURE:
 
1. The Efforts:
 
The theoretical presentation of the importance of Lobbying for making sure that the Laws are consistent with the standards provided for in the Constitution as well as in the Human Right Bill.
 
These efforts are particularly successful when there are personal god contacts with Parliament (e.g. case of the late Me. Laure Moghayzel).
 
Program of the NGO Forum and Collectif des ONG in coordination with the Parliament.
 
The efforts and activities of the Bar Association: its participation in the committee for Legal Reform; its draft bill for the protection of the privacy of communication (anti phone tapping bill).
 
Handicapped NGOs lobbying for their rights.
 
Lobbying efforts of HR organization for women’s rights (successes in amending the pertinent laws)
 
Aamiat al Hurriat, the Hyde park of freedoms in Antelias (October, 1996).
 
 
2. The Hurdles: The Lack of responsiveness of institutions
 
The lack of responsiveness of institutions and constitutional authorities: Parliament, Government). Example of LADE and all the discussions in the media relating to the new parliamentary and municipal elections law: with no effect. No effect of the pressure to have a more liberal audio-visual media law.
 
The use of the threat to return to civil war and insecurity. Opposing the Rule of Law to security.
 
 
 
IV.       ADVOCACY:
 
1. The Efforts:
 
The existence of a judiciary that is independent to some extent (independent judges); The recent creation of a constitutional court.
 
The Bar association:
 
A few advocacy groups: ADDL
 
 
 
2. The Hurdles:
 
nThe limited structural independence of the Judiciary and the time taken to rule on issues raised.
 
nThe limited access to the Constitutional Court (to annul legislation as well as to interpret the Constitution).
 
nThe inability of NGO’s to sue as such (the burden to access Administrative Court of evidencing Quality and Interest).
 
nThe fear that criticism be interpreted as contempt of court (there used to be more overt criticism that is being limited by threats of prosecution: e.g. the president and a member of the Constitutional Court itself, a number of lawyers …).
 
 
CONCLUSION
 
 
It would be very difficult to assess the degree of success of the action undertaken by the NGO’s in Lebanon.
 
Positive assessment of the activity for education.
 
The paramount importance of the independence of the Judiciary and turning it into an effective and efficient branch of government.
 
Responsiveness of the other branches of government is linked to the development of democracy: but that is another story.
 
 
 
 
                                                                        Ghassan Moukheiber
 



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