Lebanon: Treatment of Christians and availability of state protection for Christians; whether Hezbollah targets Christians in particular (2007-2008)
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa|
|Publication Date||22 February 2008|
|Citation / Document Symbol||LBN102732.FE|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Lebanon: Treatment of Christians and availability of state protection for Christians; whether Hezbollah targets Christians in particular (2007-2008), 22 February 2008, LBN102732.FE, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/485ba86ac.html [accessed 11 March 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
The conflict between Israel and Lebanon in July and August 2006 exacerbated tensions between Hezbollah and the elected government of Fouad Siniora and, consequently, worsened relations among religious groups (US 14 Sept. 2007, Sec. 3). In fact, the conflict created serious divisions between Lebanese Christians (Global Insight 13 Feb. 2007; Courrier international 22 Aug. 2007; Le Figaro 6 Aug. 2007a) who support Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces party, one of Hezbollah's chief rivals, and those who support Michel Aoun, who has forged ties with Hezbollah (AFP 21 Sept. 2006; ICG 25 July 2006, 15). In addition, religious groups cannot agree on a presidential candidate, who must be a Maronite Christian (Guardian 13 Dec. 2007; Le Figaro 6 Aug. 2007a; ibid. 6 Aug. 2007b), and the position has been vacant since 23 November 2007 (Guardian 13 Dec. 2007). According to Courrier international, all 13 parliamentary sessions to elect the Lebanese president have been postponed (22 Jan. 2008).
Although this political climate has led to clashes among religious groups – notably a bombing on 13 February 2007 in a Christian neighbourhood in northern Beirut that killed three people whose religion and ethnic origin were not reported – the United States (US) Department of State attributed the attacks to political differences and to the "legacy" of the civil war (US 14 Sept. 2007, Sec. 3.). An 11 January 2008 article in Sud Ouest also reported that the current divisions in Lebanon are no longer religious in nature.
In December 2007, following the period covered by the US Department of State report, the political crisis worsened when a bomb attack in a Christian suburb of Beirut killed a high-ranking general (Guardian 13 Dec. 2007). According to The Guardian, the attack can be attributed to differences of opinion over the choice for the next president (ibid.). Information on who claimed responsibility for this attack could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
The attack echoes a September 2007 car bombing, which also took place in a Christian neighbourhood (Courrier international 20 Sept. 2007). According to an article in the daily An Nahar and reprinted in Courrier international, that attack happened [translation] "four hours after the Maronite Church denounced the 'Hezbollah emirate' inside Lebanon" (ibid.). Further information on the attack or information indicating who claimed responsibility for the attack could not be found the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
Protection offered by the Lebanese armed forces
The Lebanese army, which has officers from every community and whose soldiers are mostly Shia Muslim and Christian, is considered to be the only force able to keep the country together (Guardian 13 Dec. 2007) and one of only a few truly national institutions (L'Express 28 Nov. 2007). However, Le Monde diplomatique reports that Christian soldiers have vandalized some mosques (1 Feb. 2008). The Lebanese armed forces were targeted for the first time in December 2007 (Guardian 13 Dec. 2007). Later, in February 2008, the daily Orient-Le Jour published a news release from the leaders of the Lebanese army citing attacks targeting army positions (4 Feb. 2008). Those attacks followed riots at the end of January 2008, during which demonstrators insulted soldiers in the region of Mar Makhaeil, site of the first clashes in the 1975 civil war (Libération 29 Jan. 2008). Those soldiers had been deployed primarily to the Shia neighbourhoods of Chiyah and Mar Mikhaeil (La Croix 29 Jan. 2008) to prevent the violence from spilling over into neighbouring Christian and Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods (The Canadian Press 27 Jan. 2008). According to Libération, the region of Mar Mikhaeil, is [translation] "extremely sensitive" (29 Jan. 2008), since it is adjacent to the neighbourhood of Aïn el-Remmaneh, whose population is mostly made up of Christians (La Croix 29 Jan. 2008; Libération 29 Jan. 2008), many of whom support the Lebanese Forces party (ibid.), and since the Shia Muslims who support the opposition also live next to the Mar Mikhaeil region (ibid.). According to the French religious daily La Croix, the Christians feared that the riots, begun in protest to the electricity being cut off (Libération 29 Jan. 2008; The Canadian Press 27 Jan. 2008), would spread to the predominantly Christian neighbourhoods (La Croix 29 Jan. 2008). Sources do not agree on the number of victims in these attacks; figures range between 7 and 10 (Libération 29 Jan. 2008; La Croix 29 Jan. 2008; The Canadian Press 27 Jan. 2008).
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), much of Lebanon's Christian community supports the Hezbollah party (10 Oct. 2007, 1). Information on Hezbollah's treatment of Christians who do not support them could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
However, party leaders state that the role of the party's military wing is to defend Lebanon against Israeli attacks, not to fight the Lebanese people (The Christian Science Monitor 7 Nov. 2007).
Moreover, a former high-ranking officer in the Lebanese army stated in November 2007 that the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces [a Christian party represented in Parliament and opposed to Hezbollah (Le Monde 20 Dec. 2006; ICG 21 Dec. 2006) and a former militia] were preparing themselves so that they could ensure the neutrality of the Christians and Druze in the Mount Lebanon district in the event of violence between Shias and Sunnis (The Christian Science Monitor 7 Nov. 2007). According to the former officer, efforts have been made to ensure that "Christians and Druze stay out of the fighting" (ibid.). However, this information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within time constraints.
How the threat is perceived by political stakeholders
The Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian political party, reports that Lebanese Christians are marginalized (Free Patriotic Movement 3 Dec. 2007). According to the statements of a Maronite priest that were broadcast on the Al-Jazeera network and published by the Daily Star, the power struggle between Shia and Sunni Muslims is the reason for the political crisis in Lebanon, and the Christians are caught in the middle (Daily Star 3 Jan. 2008).
According to the Free Patriotic Movement, one of the biggest dangers for Lebanese Christians is the presence of large numbers of Palestinians in Lebanon (Free Patriotic Movement 3 Dec. 2007). Moreover, Maronite cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir stated that the chief threat to the Christian community is the departure of its members (Le Figaro 6 Aug. 2007c). According to Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the increase in Islamism is not the chief threat to Christians, since Lebanese Islam is tolerant and traditionally has close ties to eastern Christianity (ibid.).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Agence France-Presse (AFP). 21 September 2006. "Lebanon's Divided Christians Feel Rudderless." (Factiva)
The Canadian Press. 27 January 2008. "Des manifestations dégénèrent en émeutes à Beyrouth : sept morts." (Factiva)
The Christian Science Monitor [Boston]. 7 November 2007. Nicholas Blanford. "Lebanon's Militias Rearm Before Vote." (Factiva)
Courrier international. 22 January 2008. "Liban – Blocage politique et menaces sur la paix civile."
_____. 20 September 2007. "Encore un meurtre pour mettre en garde la majorité." (An Nahar)
_____. 22 August 2007. "Les chrétiens divisés avant l'élection présidentielle." (L'Orient-le Jour)
La Croix [Paris]. 29 January 2008. "Le Liban redoute une nouvelle guerre civile." (Factiva)
Daily Star [Beirut]. 3 January 2008. Maroun Khoury. "History Will Not Forgive Those Who Block Solutions; Maronite Bishops Blast 'Political Bickering'." (Factiva)
L'Express [Paris]. 28 November 2007. Scarlett Haddad. "Beyrouth, toujours dans l'attente d'un nouveau président."
Le Figaro [Paris]. 6 August 2007a. Luc de Barochez. "La tragédie des chrétiens du Liban."
_____. 6 August 2007b. Renaud Girard. "La dangereuse désunion des chrétiens du Liban."
_____. 6 August 2007c. Renaud Girard. "Mgr Sfeir : 'Une communauté chrétienne forte est dans l'intérêt national'." (Eureka)
Free Patriotic Movement. 3 December 2007. "Document des propositions chrétiennes libanaises."
Global Insight. 13 February 2007. Mohammed Shakeel. "Double Bombing in Lebanon Threatens to Stoke Political Tensions." (Factiva)
Guardian [London]. 13 December 2007. Ian Black. "Murder of General Deepens Crisis in Lebanon."
International Crisis Group (ICG). 10 October 2007. "Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis."
_____. 21 December 2006. "Le Liban sur un baril de poudre."
_____. 25 July 2006. Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: Climbing Out of the Abyss. (Middle East Report No. 57).
Libération [Paris]. 29 January 2008. Isabelle Dellerba. "L'armée, nouvelle cible des manifestants." (Factiva)
Le Monde [Paris]. 20 December 2006. "La fracture libanaise." (Factiva)
Le Monde diplomatique [Paris]. 1 February 2008. Fidaa Itani. "Les étranges alliances des groupes radicaux islamistes; Enquête sur l'implantation d'Al-Qaida au Liban." (Factiva)
L'Orient-Le Jour [Beirut]. 4 February 2008. "'Les agressions contre la troupe parasitent l'enquête,' souligne un communiqué de l'armée."
Sud Ouest [Bordeaux]. 11 January 2008. Lemine Ould M. Salem. "Beyrouth attend un président." (Factiva)
United States (U.S.). 14 September 2007. Department of State. "Lebanon." International Religious Freedom Report 2007.
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Attempts to reach the following sources were unsuccessful: the Canada Research Chair on Islam, Pluralism and Gobalization (CRC-IPG) at the Université de Montréal, the Réseau Moyen-Orient of the Université de Montréal.
Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Freedom House, Groupe de recherche islamo-chrétien (GRIC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Independent, International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), Lebanese Foundation for Peace, Middle East Council of Churches, Middle East Forum, Middle East Policy Council, ReliefWeb.