Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 September 2014, 13:37 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Lebanon

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Lebanon, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee69c.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.

Lebanon (Tier 3)

Lebanon is a source and destination country for women and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The country may also be a transit point for Eastern European women and children destined for sex trafficking in other Middle Eastern countries. Women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Madagascar who travel to Lebanon voluntarily with the assistance of recruitment agencies to work in domestic service often find themselves in conditions of forced labor, including through the use of such practices as withholding of passports, nonpayment of wages, restrictions on movement, verbal abuse, and physical assault. Workers who leave their employer's house without permission automatically lose their legal status unless a change in their sponsorship is pre-arranged and approved by the General Directorate for General Security (SG), the government agency responsible for the entry, residency, and departure of foreign workers. Some employers threaten workers with the loss of this legal status in order to keep them in forced labor and, in some cases, have kept foreign domestic workers confined in houses for years. The government's artiste visa program, which in 2010 facilitated the entry of 5,595 women from Eastern Europe, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria on three-month visas to work as dancers in the adult entertainment industry, serves to sustain a significant sex trade and enables forced prostitution through such practices as withholding of passports and restrictions on movement. Some Syrian women in street prostitution may be forced to engage in the sex trade and Syrian girls are reportedly brought to Lebanon for the purpose of prostitution, including through the guise of early marriage. Anecdotal information indicates that Lebanese children are subjected to situations of forced labor, particularly street begging, within the country, as well as commercial sexual exploitation facilitated by male pimps, husbands, and "boyfriends," at times through early marriage. Small numbers of Lebanese girls may be taken to other Arab countries for forced prostitution.

The Government of Lebanon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the last three consecutive years. Therefore, pursuant to Section 107 of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, Lebanon is deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3. The government neither made combating human trafficking a national priority during the reporting period nor allocated resources to protecting victims. It also made no concerted efforts to educate the Lebanese public regarding the issue and failed to show substantial progress in identifying foreign victims of trafficking – particularly victims of domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. It failed to bring specific charges of forced labor or forced prostitution in cases involving abuses against migrant workers and did not provide stringent punishments that would deter such crimes. The government did, however, draft legislation providing increased protection to migrant domestic workers, transmit a draft anti-trafficking law to parliament for review, establish an office and hotline to receive workers' complaints, and improve through training the SG's recognition of trafficking indicators, investigation of abuse allegations, and referral of victims to assistance. The Lebanese government collapsed in January 2011; the current "caretaker" government cannot pass or enact new legislation.

Recommendations for Lebanon: Enact draft anti-trafficking amendments to the criminal code, the Labor Law amendment extending legal protections to foreign workers, and the draft law providing increased labor protections to domestic workers; investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses using existing laws – particularly laws prohibiting forced labor, forced prostitution, and the confiscation of domestic workers' passports – and convict and punish trafficking offenders; provide services to migrant workers and Lebanese nationals who are victims of forced labor and forced prostitution, such as shelter, access to legal aid and interpretation, and counseling; develop and institute formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as women holding "artiste" visas and domestic workers who have escaped abusive employers; ensure that identified victims of trafficking are promptly referred to protection services rather than detained for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations or prostitution; raise awareness about the existence and uses of the Ministry of Labor's complaints office and hotline, and enhance the quality of services provided; and amend the unified employment contract for domestic workers to recognize the worker's right to leave her employer's house during her time off and retain her passport.

Prosecution

While the government took steps to improve labor rights and protections for domestic workers during the reporting period, it failed to investigate or prosecute trafficking offenses committed against migrant workers, or convict and sentence trafficking offenders. Although Lebanon lacks a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute, its current criminal code prohibits all forms of human trafficking. The prescribed penalties of a minimum of one year's imprisonment for forced prostitution (Article 524) or a maximum of two years' imprisonment for inducing children into prostitution (Article 73) are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Penalties of temporary hard labor for deprivation of freedom (Article 569) and one year's imprisonment for forced labor or involuntary servitude (Article 649) are not sufficiently stringent. In the few occasions when Lebanese courts addressed trafficking offenses, they usually used Article 554 (Personal Injuries). In July 2010, the cabinet approved draft amendments to Lebanon's criminal code prohibiting human trafficking and sent them to Parliament for review by the relevant committees. These amendments would categorize human trafficking as a felony and prescribe penalties of five to seven years' imprisonment, with higher punishments available for aggravating circumstances. They would also permit victims to remain in Lebanon during the investigation and prosecution of their cases. A labor law amendment that would extend legal protections to foreign workers has been awaiting submission to the cabinet by the Ministry of Labor for more than two years; this amendment does not cover foreign domestic workers, who constitute the majority of foreign migrant workers in Lebanon. To remedy this, the Minister of Labor convened several meetings of the National Steering Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers to draft a law extending labor protections to both Lebanese and foreign domestic workers; at a February 2011 press conference, the caretaker labor minister acknowledged the existence of human trafficking in Lebanon and indicated that the draft law was awaiting presentation to the new cabinet, once appointed.

There is no evidence that a sex trafficking case has ever been prosecuted in Lebanon, and the government has yet to prosecute a case of forced labor against an employer under Article 649. Pursuit of such cases was hampered by bureaucratic indifference and inefficiency, difficulty proving cases of alleged abuse, victims' lack of adequate legal representation and knowledge of their rights, court backlogs, immediate deportation of artistes who complain of abuse, and cultural biases, particularly against foreign domestic workers. Lack of sufficient anti-trafficking training also hindered prosecutors' and judges' recognition of potential cases. Given the significant hurdles to pursuing criminal complaints in the Lebanese court system, many foreign victims opted for quick administrative settlements followed by mandatory deportation rather than long, complicated criminal prosecutions. Evidence suggests, however, that many cases were not resolved, and trafficking victims were deported without receiving even their wages due. The Ministries of Labor and Justice and the SG provided information on their anti-trafficking efforts, but they did not automate most recordkeeping, so data was incomplete and may be inaccurate. During the year, some civil and criminal courts heard cases brought by domestic workers, primarily concerning the nonpayment of wages and physical abuse, which are indicative of trafficking offenses, though it is not clear if the underlying abuse rose to the level of trafficking. The government reported that it prosecuted two cases involving potential trafficking offenses in 2010 and overturned an earlier conviction. However, the courts failed to consider whether forced labor offenses were perpetrated against the victims. Pursuant to Article 554, the Penal Judge of Jbeil convicted an employer of physically abusing a Sri Lankan domestic worker in June 2010. The employer was sentenced to one month's imprisonment, barred from entering any employment contract with a domestic worker for five years, and required to pay legal costs and damages of $6,666. Pursuant to Article 624 Section 1 of the Obligations and Contracts Law, a Filipina domestic worker brought charges of unpaid wages against her employer in January 2010. Although in March 2010 the Labor Court in Beirut ordered the employer to repay the $1,200 in back-wages sought by the worker, it failed to address the physical abuse alleged by the victim and required the victim to share court fees with the employer. As reported previously, an employer was sentenced in December 2009 to 15 days' imprisonment and $7,200 in damages for regularly beating her Filipina domestic worker. In October 2010, the appeal court overturned the sentence of imprisonment and reduced damages to $666 without providing its reasoning for overturning the conviction. The government did not provide specialized training for its officials to recognize, investigate, or prosecute cases of trafficking; all issue-specific training received by SG and Internal Security Forces (ISF) staff in 2010 was provided by NGOs.

Protection

The government neither made sufficient efforts to ensure that trafficking victims received access to protective services nor allocated resources to provide for their care during the reporting period. Its continued lack of systematic guidelines for proactively identifying trafficking victims among high risk populations led to the deportation of most runaway domestic workers and artistes without determining if they were trafficking victims. Illegal workers were generally not prosecuted or fined, but they were typically arrested and detained for between one and 10 months before being deported without being screened for indicators of trafficking. The SG operated a prison-style detention center in Beirut for up to 500 migrant workers in violation of their visa status or illegally present and awaiting disposition of their cases. In April 2010, a joint government-NGO working committee on victim protection issued standard operating procedures to guide the SG in the handling of irregular migrants held at its detention center, many of whom are foreign domestic workers, to enable more efficient and timely processing. The procedures became effective in June 2010, but they lack specific guidance for identifying victims of trafficking among administrative detainees. Some SG guards, however, began to refer more systematically and objectively women suspected of being trafficking victims directly to an NGO for screening and care upon their arrival at the detention center; the determination of victim status was made by the NGO. In 2010, the SG and ISF referred only seven victims of trafficking to the NGO, which provided a variety of services to 136 victims of both labor and sex trafficking in 2010, including shelter for 102 victims at its safe house. The government did not provide victims with services and relied on this NGO and shelters operated by source country embassies to do so. In some cases, ISF staff interviewed trafficking victims at this safe house, rather than taking them to the police station. During the year, embassy shelters provided care to over 750 out-of-status domestic workers, some of whom may have been trafficking victims.

The government continued some policies and practices that rendered migrant women vulnerable to trafficking. For example, authorities required that women recruited under its artiste visa program be confined in hotels for most of the day and summarily deported them if they complained of mistreatment; cases involving the exploitation of artistes were rarely referred to the NGO for assistance. Victims were neither encouraged to bring their cases to the attention of public prosecutors nor offered residency status or other legal alternatives to removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution.

Prevention

Lebanon made limited efforts to prevent trafficking over the last year. The National Steering Committee for Trafficking in Persons, which advises the government on draft laws and decrees, met 12 times during the year to discuss the draft law on domestic workers, as well as the unified employment contract for migrant workers. This standard contract, in use since February 2009, is still not available in the 12 most common languages of migrant laborers; domestic workers must sign the contract in Arabic, a language that most cannot read. The government made no effort during the reporting period to enforce its law prohibiting the confiscation of passports belonging to foreign migrants arriving in Lebanon. The standard SG procedure of surrendering arriving domestic workers' passports to their sponsors upon arrival limits those workers' freedom of movement and makes them vulnerable to situations of human trafficking. In March 2010, the Higher Council for Childhood (HCC), part of the Ministry of Social Affairs, hosted, in partnership with an international and a local NGO, a training program for 30 ISF officers on child trafficking; HCC staff presented a session on human rights during this event. Training provided by NGOs reportedly led to SG officers' increased recognition that nonpayment of wages and physical abuse of domestic workers are indicators of human trafficking. The SG raided the house of and issued an arrest warrant for a domestic worker's employer after he failed three times to appear to face allegations of nonpayment of wages. In another case, a recruitment agent was arrested and jailed on charges of physically abusing a migrant domestic worker; his case is pending in court. During the year, SG participated in the resolution of 55 cases involving domestic workers through administrative arrangements and granted 14 foreign trafficking victims release papers from their abusive employers, enabling them legally to seek alternate employment.

In April 2010, the Labor Minister established an office and hotline to receive labor complaints from foreign workers. Between April and January 2011, the hotline operated between the hours of 8 am and 2 pm and the two contracted staff members could not speak the languages most commonly spoken by migrant workers. The hotline reportedly received few trafficking-related complaints, presumably due to the targeted population's limited awareness of its existence, and it lacked an established protocol for following up on information received. Since the collapse of the government, the hotline cannot operate because its staff is considered to be employed by the minister, who is now in caretaker status. The Ministry of Labor provided no statistics documenting the work of its 130 inspectors charged with investigating situations of forced adult or child labor, and the 501 licensed employment agencies received little state supervision by the ministry. The SG continued implementation of its pilot program that distributed brochures to an unknown number of departing Moldovan artistes containing information on NGO resources available to trafficking victims in Moldova. Lebanese authorities provided no services, however, to Moldovan victims of sex trafficking. The government did not take any steps to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts during the year.

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