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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Lebanon

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Lebanon, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3524.html [accessed 26 July 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

 

Lebanon is a parliamentary republic in which the President is by tradition a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shi'a Muslim. The Parliament consists of 128 deputies, equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives.

Non-Lebanese military forces control much of Lebanon. These include about 30,000 Syrian troops, a contingent of Israeli army regulars, an Israeli-supported militia in southern Lebanon, and several armed Palestinian factions. All undermine the authority of the central Government and prevent the application of law in areas not under its control. In 1991 the Governments of Lebanon and Syria concluded a security agreement which provides a framework for cooperation between their armed forces. However, Syrian military and intelligence units in Lebanon conduct their activities independently of the agreement.

In 1989 the Arab League brokered a peace settlement at Taif, Saudi Arabia, to end the hostilities in Lebanon. According to the Taif Accord, Syrian troops were scheduled to be redeployed from Lebanon's coastal population areas to the Biqa' Valley, with full redeployment to take place thereafter. The Syrian Government has refused to carry out that redeployment. Lebanese government officials have not pressed the issue, citing such reasons as the Lebanese Army's alleged unreadiness to take over security functions from Syrian forces. However, pervasive Syrian influence over Lebanese politics and decisionmakers lies at the root of the Government's unwillingness to engage Syrian authorities on the withdrawal. This relationship with Syria does not reflect the will of significant segments of the Lebanese public.

Israel exerts control in and near its self-proclaimed "security zone" in southern Lebanon through its surrogate, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), and the presence of about 1,000 Israeli troops. The SLA maintains a separate and arbitrary system of justice in the zone independent of Lebanese central authority. SLA officials have reportedly deported some alleged criminals to Israel to face legal charges. Also in south Lebanon, the Iranian-backed Shi'a Muslim militia, Hizballah, and allied Palestinian guerrillas continue to be locked in a cycle of raids and counterraids with Israeli forces and the SLA.

Palestinian groups operate autonomously in refugee camps throughout the country and maintain a separate, arbitrary system of justice for other Palestinians. During the year, the Government continued to consolidate its authority in the parts of the country under its control, but has made little effort to disarm Hizballah and its allies, the SLA, or to reassert state control over the Palestinian refugee camps.

The security forces comprise the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which may arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds; the Internal Security Forces (ISF) which enforce laws, conduct searches and arrests, and refer cases to the judiciary; and the State Security apparatus and the Surete Generale, both of which collect information on groups that may jeopardize state security. The Surete Generale is also responsible for the issuance of passports and residency permits and for the censorship of foreign periodicals and movies that treat national-security issues.

Before the 1975-90 hostilities, Lebanon was an important financial and commercial center. The war weakened its commercial leadership and inflicted massive damage on the economic infrastructure. In 1995 the economy continued to recover as the Government took steps to restore confidence and implement a reconstruction program.

Since the end of hostilities, the Government has made no substantial effort to improve human rights conditions. Government abuses included the arbitrary arrest and detention of persons opposing government policies. The Government continued to ban demonstrations and partially limit press freedom. There were credible reports that members of the security forces used excessive force and tortured some detainees. Prison conditions remained poor. Discrimination against women is a problem. Although the overall level of armed conflict declined, life and property, especially in the south, are still threatened by artillery and aerial attacks by the various contending forces. These forces continue to carry out abductions, assassinations, and terrorist bombings. The right of the people to change their government continued to deteriorate. In May Parliament approved a law extending the term of municipal officials until December 31, 1996, thereby postponing elections which would have been required by June. Municipal elections have not been held since 1963. In October the Government secured passage of a constitutional amendment to extend the term of the current president by 3 years. That move met widespread opposition and cast further doubt on the ability of the citizens to change their government.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

During the year, political killings declined as the Government further consolidated its authority over the country. However, at least one death was caused by the excessive use of force when on June 18 an ISF sergeant shot and killed the driver of a car that failed to stop at an ISF checkpoint. The sergeant was tried and sentenced to 1 year imprisonment. The Government has appealed for a more severe punishment.

Various factions and unknown persons carried out assassinations. On August 31, unidentified assailants shot and killed Shaykh Nizar Al-Halabi, a Sunni cleric who headed a socio-political organization. Both the Nation's Party, an unknown group, and the Fatah-Revolutionary Council-The Correct Path claimed responsibility. On July 3, Ahmad Al-Assa'ad, the son of a former Speaker of Parliament, escaped harm when assailants threw hand grenades at him during a political rally which he had organized and at which he was speaking. The Government has not publicly investigated the incident nor arrested several persons identified as suspects.

There were no developments in the 1994 death of Tariq Hasaniyah, who was allegedly beaten to death by authorities at the Bayt Al-Din Prison, nor in the 1994 death of Fawzi Al-Rasi, who died while in the custody of the Ministry of Defense.

On December 13, after six procedural postponements, the Court of Cassation began its retrial of Bassem Al-Firkh and Nameq Kamal for their roles in the 1976 murders of U.S. Ambassador Francis Meloy, economic officer Robert Waring, and their driver Muhammad Mughrabi. In 1994 the Criminal Court declined to convict Al-Firkh on grounds that, while he participated in the abduction of Meloy and his colleagues, he did not participate in the actual killings. Kidnaping during the political strife from 1975 to 1990 is pardonable by Lebanon's 1991 Amnesty Law, but the assassination of diplomats is not. However, the same court found Kamal guilty of the murders and sentenced him to death. His sentence was later reduced to 4 years. In ordering the retrial of Al-Firkh and Kamal, the Court of Cassation agreed with the public prosecutor's argument that the abduction and murder constitute one crime which cannot be separated.

In 1994 security forces arrested three Iraqi diplomats assigned to Beirut and charged them with the murder of an Iraqi dissident. According to press reports, the suspects have admitted their guilt, but as of the end of the year no trial has yet been held. In June one of the diplomats died while in custody.

b. Disappearance

In February armed militia members kidnaped two persons from the Jazzine district and held them in captivity for 4 days. Credible sources claimed that Hizballah was responsible for the abduction. The Government did not investigate the incident or take measures to prevent such incidents from occurring in future.

The Government has taken no judicial action against groups known to be responsible for the kidnapings of thousands of people during the unrest between 1975 to 1990. On May 25, Parliament approved a law which will allow those who disappeared during the civil war to officially be declared dead. The law stipulates that interested parties may declare as dead any Lebanese or foreigner who has disappeared in Lebanon or abroad and for whose disappearance death was the most probable explanation. Petitioners may apply for a court certification 4 years after a declaration of disappearance and may not benefit from any properties inherited until 6 years after such a court certification. The law will facilitate the resolution of inheritance claims and second marriages.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There continued to be credible reports that the Lebanese security forces used torture on some detainees. During the June Shi'a Muslim commemoration of Ashura in a Sunni neighborhood, several young Sunni males were arrested and allegedly beaten by members of the ISF. Some members of Parliament accused the ISF of torturing the detainees with electric shocks and called on the Minister of Interior to investigate. The Minister ordered an investigation, but had not published any findings by year's end.

In April the Lebanese Association for Human Rights claimed that the Government had failed to take action on the kidnaping and torture of citizens by various militias. The Association formed an investigative committee to pursue this issue. In October two Russian tourists complained that they had been beaten and then detained in the local Hizballah Party headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut for having taken pictures. In response the Government took no action.

In August lawyer Majid Fayyad complained publicly that security officers mistreated his client, Ibtissam Nimr Al-'Abd, who had been arrested in connection with the murder investigation of her husband Munir Al-Ghadban. The lawyer claimed that his client was beaten, insulted, and burned with cigarettes while in custody. The Government has not investigated the allegation.

The prison system is regulated by law. In January the Government issued a special decree legalizing a detention facility at the Ministry of Defense (MOD) headquarters building outside Beirut. Samir Ja'ja', the former leader of the dissolved Lebanese Forces militia, has been incarcerated in this facility since April 1994. The Government justifies the incarceration of Ja'ja' as one of only a handful of inmates at the high security MOD facility as a precautionary measure to ensure his safety. Ja'ja's lawyers have alleged that he has been mistreated while in prison and that his health has been jeopardized by his inadequately ventilated, poorly lit cell three floors below ground. In November a prison doctor reported that Ja'ja' was in good health, and prison authorities have allowed him increased daily exercise. Ja'ja' is not allowed to receive newspapers or have a radio or television set, but in December the public prosecutor granted his request for a bible and selected books and magazines.

Prison conditions do not meet internationally recognized minimum standards. Inmates lack heat and adequate shower and toilet facilities. The Ministry of Interior has acknowledged publicly that the prisons are overcrowded, with 50 to 60 prisoners often housed in one cell. There are as many as 60 children detained in prisons, sharing the same facilities as adult prisoners. In June the Parliament's Human Rights Commission raised the issue of prison conditions in a letter to the Interior Minister, who promised to undertake an investigation. At year's end, the Interior Ministry had not released its findings. However, the Interior Minister announced in December a $50 million budgetary request to rehabilitate the prison system.

In addition to the regular prisons, the Surete Generale, which is responsible for the prevention of the illegal entry of foreigners, also operates a detention facility. Hundreds of foreigners--mostly Egyptians and Sri Lankans--have been detained there pending deportation. They are reportedly held in small, poorly ventilated cells.

Abuses also occurred in areas outside the State's authority, especially in the Palestinian refugee camps. There were credible reports that members of the various Palestinian groups which control the camps detained and tortured their Palestinian rivals.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government resorts to arbitrary arrest and detention. The law requires security forces to obtain arrest warrants before making arrests. However, military prosecutors, who are responsible for cases involving the military as well as those involving espionage, treason, weapons possession, and draft evasion, reportedly issue blank warrants to be completed after a suspect has been arrested. Arresting officers must refer a suspect to a prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest, but frequently do not.

The law requires the authorities to release suspects after 48 hours of arrest if they do not bring formal charges against them. Some prosecutors flout this requirement and detain suspects for long periods in pretrial confinement without a court order. The law authorizes a judge to remand suspects to incommunicado detention for a period of 10 days, with an extension for an additional 10 days. There is a system of bail, but it is only available to those accused of petty crimes, not to those accused of felonies. Defendants have the right to legal counsel, but there is no public defender's office. The Bar Association has an office to assist those who cannot afford a lawyer.

The army continued the practice of arbitrary arrest, detaining mainly the former members of the Lebanese Forces (LF), the dissolved Christian militia. In March security forces arrested 30 LF supporters for having participated in a commemorative gathering on the first anniversary of the bombing of a church in the Al-Zuq area north of Beirut. Attendees had gathered both to remember those who had died and to protest the arrest of former LF leader Samir Ja'ja' and other LF members who were accused of committing that bombing (see Sections 1.c. and 1.e.).

Local militias and non-Lebanese forces continued to conduct arbitrary arrests in areas outside central Government control. The SLA detains an estimated 100-200 Lebanese citizens and an undetermined number of Palestinians at Al-Khiyam prison in south Lebanon. During the year, the SLA began to permit the families of detainees to visit their relatives in the prison. It also released 73 detainees, most of whom are Lebanese citizens.

Israel is known to hold several Lebanese citizens, including Sheikh Abed Karim Obaid and Mustafa Dirani, figures associated with the so-called Islamic Resistance.

Palestinian refugees are subject to arrest, detention, and harassment by the state security forces, Syrian security forces, the various militias, and rival Palestinians.

In the recent past, the Government resorted to exile as a means of punishment. In 1991 it pardoned former army commander General Michel 'Awn and two of his aides, on condition that they depart the country and remain in exile for 5 years. General 'Awn acted as prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and was accused of usurping power. He and his aides remain in exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is generally impartial and independent of executive authority. However, influential politicians and Syrian intelligence officers sometimes intervene to protect their clients from prosecution.

The judicial system is composed of the regular civilian courts; military courts, which try cases involving military personnel; the Judicial Council, which tries national security offenses; and the religious tribunals of the various denominations which adjudicate disputes involving marriage, inheritance, and personal status.

The Judicial Council is a permanent tribunal of five senior judges who adjudicate cases involving threats to state security. On the recommendation of the Minister of Justice, the Cabinet decides whether to try a case before this tribunal.

The Ministry of Justice appoints judges according to a formula based on the confessional affiliation of the prospective judge. The shortage of judges has impeded efforts to adjudicate cases backloged during the years of internal conflict.

Trials delays are also caused by the Government's inability to conduct investigations in areas outside its control. According to the Minister of Interior, at least 600 prisoners were in detention awaiting trial during some parts of 1995.

In June the Military Court found Hassan Yassin, Wafiq Nasser, and Suhayi Al-Homsi guilty of participation in the 1994 bombing deaths of Hizballah figure Fu'ad Mughniyah and two other persons. The court sentenced Yassin and Nasser to 15 years of hard labor and Al-Homsi to 3 years of hard labor. The Government also convicted in absentia Ahmad Al-Hallaq, Tawfiq Nasser, and Ghassan Al-Homsi. Al-Hallaq and Nasser were given death sentences and Al-Homsi life with hard labor. The military prosecutor appealed several of the verdicts, asking for a more severe punishment. The appeal was pending at year's end.

In June the Judicial Council found former Lebanese Forces commander Samir Ja'ja' and co-defendant Kamil Karam guilty of the 1990 murders of Liberal Party leader Dany Chamoun and his family. Ja'ja' was sentenced to death, commuted to life in prison at hard labor; Karam was sentenced to 15 years, commuted to 10 years. Another defendant, Rafiq Saade, was found innocent of murder, but sentenced to 1 year already served on a weapons charge. Nine others charged in the murders, all of whom fled the country prior to their indictments, were found guilty of one or more murders. Ghassan Touma, Tony Obeid, Atef Boulos Habre, Naja Anis Kaddam, and Elias Georges Awad were sentenced in absentia to death, commuted to life in prison. Jean Chahine, Georges Feghali, Elie Akiki, and Jean Samia were sentenced in absentia to 15 years, commuted to 10 years. All were ordered to pay a nominal sum as compensation to the relatives of the murdered. The verdict of the Judicial Council is not subject to appeal. The Government is seeking the extradition of those outside of Lebanon.

The 1994 Al-Zuq church bombing trial, in which Ja'ja' is also a defendant, was continued indefinitely (sine die) in May. In December Ja'ja' was indicted for plotting the 1991 assassination attempt on then Minister of Defense Michel Murr. December also saw the beginning of the trial of Ja'ja' and Rafiq Saade for the 1990 assassination of former Kata'ib Party member Dr. Ilyas Al-Zayek.

The legal system is discriminatory in its handling of so-called crimes of honor. According to the Penal Code, the male killer of a wife, sister, or mother may benefit from a reduced sentence if he can demonstrate that he committed the crime in response to an illegitimate sexual relationship conducted by the victim.

In refugee camps, Palestinian elements operate an autonomous and arbitrary system of justice. The Islamic militia, Hizballah, which operates its own system of justice, announced in 1994 that it will apply Islamic law in areas under its control.

There were no reports of political prisoners, although the authorities often detain for short periods and without charges political opponents of the Syrian and Lebanese governments.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

While the authorities generally show little interest in controlling the personal lives of citizens, they are not reluctant to interfere with the privacy of persons regarded as foes of the Government. Laws require that prosecutors obtain warrants before entering houses except when the army is in hot pursuit of an armed attacker.

The Government uses informer networks and monitors telephones to gather information on its adversaries. In May the Prime Minister announced that he would refer cases to the Prosecutor-General to prevent the intelligence services from tapping telephone conversations. Additionally, in a note to the Post and Telecommunications Ministry, the Prime Minster said that he would hold private cellular phone companies responsible should they allow government agencies to tap cellular phones without warrants.

Militias and non-Lebanese forces operating outside areas of central government authority have frequently violated rights of privacy. Various factions also use informer networks and monitor telephones to obtain information on their adversaries.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

An undetermined number of civilians continue to be killed in South Lebanon, as Hizballah and its associated Lebanese and Palestinian militias, on the one hand, and Israeli forces and the SLA, on the other, engage in a cycle of violence. The former attacked SLA troops deployed on Lebanese soil and in June conducted a rocket attack on northern Israel. Israeli forces conducted repeated air strikes and artillery barrages on purported guerrilla and terrorist targets inside Lebanon.

There were numerous incidents in the cycle of attack and reprisal. For example, in January Israeli forces in south Lebanon employed flechette artillery rounds in an exchange with the Islamic Resistance. Several rounds inadvertently struck a contingent of Nepalese soldiers assigned to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), wounding three of them. In December three Norwegian soldiers assigned to UNIFIL were wounded, one seriously, by a similar Israeli artillery round. Three Lebanese children were killed on July 9 when their home was hit by fire from an Israeli tank. In retaliation the Islamic Resistance fired rockets at settlements in northern Israel. Rocket attacks on civilians in northern Israel again took place on November 28 when Hizballah forces launched more than 30 Katuysha rockets.

Beginning in February, Israeli forces imposed a naval blockade along the southern Lebanese coast around Tyre, preventing fishermen from carrying on their activities. The blockade continued throughout 1995. In November the Israeli Navy captured fishermen off the coast of Tyre in south Lebanon and confiscated their boat. Three of the fishermen were taken to Naqura and released shortly thereafter; two other fishermen were allegedly interrogated, beaten, and released 8 hours after their abduction.

In August the Israeli air force raided two Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) bases, one in Sultan Ya'acoub in the western Biqa' Valley, and one in the area of Na'ameh, about 15 kilometers south of Beirut. On October 15, Hizballah guerrillas ambushed an Israeli patrol in southern Lebanon, killing six soldiers and wounding one.

In June fighting broke out in the Ain Al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon between rival Palestinian factions. Six persons died and 30 were wounded during the approximately 48 hours of fighting.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government generally respects the constitutional right to freedom of the press. However, it partially limits this freedom, or intimidates journalists into practicing self-censorship.

Lebanon has a long history of freedom of opinion, speech, and the press. Although there were repeated attempts to muzzle these freedoms during the year, daily, vocal criticism of government policies and leaders continues. Dozens of newspapers and magazines are published throughout Lebanon, financed by various Lebanese and foreign groups. While the press is normally independent, press content often reflects the opinions of these financial backers.

The Government has several legal tools at its disposal to control the freedom of expression. The Surete Generale is authorized to approve all foreign magazines and nonperiodical works including plays, books, and films before they are distributed in the market. The law prohibits attacks on the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The Government may prosecute offending journalists and publications in the Publications Court, a special court empowered to try such matters.

Moreover, the 1991 security agreement between Lebanon and Syria contains a provision that effectively prohibits the publication of any information deemed harmful to the security of either state. Under the risk of prosecution, Lebanese journalists censor themselves on matters related to Syria.

During the year, army intelligence officers reportedly discouraged journalists from writing favorably about former Lebanese Forces militia commander Samir Ja'ja' who was tried for the 1990 murders of political leader Dany Chamoun and his family, the 1994 Al-Zuq church bombing, and the 1990 assassination of former Kata'ib Party member Dr. Ilyas Al-Zayek (see Section 1.e.). Several journalists were summoned to the army intelligence headquarters where they were questioned for several hours before being released.

On March 25, student Joseph Noujaym was abducted from his house by security officers because he allegedly distributed leaflets asking for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. No warrant was issued for his arrest. Noujaym was not charged with any wrongdoing and was released on March 28.

In June the Minister of Information asked the owner of a television station to cancel the scheduled broadcast of a program on the controversial themes of civil marriage and divorce after he received complaints from some religious dignitaries.

Also in June the Publication Court sentenced the owner of Al-Shira' magazine to 1 month in prison for publishing material judged as insulting to the President. In the same month the court also sentenced the editor-in-chief of Ad-Diyar newspaper to 3 months in prison for having published an article on the alleged involvement of a parliamentarian in drug trafficking.

Journalist Faris Abi Saab was arrested for covering a labor demonstration on July 19. Later in the month, he and 78 of the demonstrators were tried and convicted for disturbing the peace. Although Saab's case attracted considerable international concern, local human rights officials say that the Government was within its rights in pursuing the case and noted the Government's swift disposition, as well as the court's leniency (see Section 6.a.).

Lebanon has a strong tradition of academic freedom and a flourishing private educational system born of inadequate public schools and a preference for sectarian affiliation. Students exercise the right to form campus associations, and the Government does not usually interfere with student groups.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Any group wishing to organize a rally must obtain the prior approval of the Interior Ministry, which does not render decisions uniformly. The Government banned all rallies in 1995. Nonetheless, some political factions, such as the Shi'a Amal Movement, Hizballah, the Sunni Moslem group Al-Habash, and supporters of the Prime Minister, held rallies without obtaining government permission.

In at least two instances, the ISF moved to disperse crowds regarded as illegal demonstrations. In July security forces fired over the heads of demonstrators protesting a government decision to increase the price of gasoline. Several persons, including some security officers, were injured as a result of aggressive crowd-control handling by security forces.

In August the ISF dispersed a gathering in the town of Zahle which assembled to welcome a local Member of Parliament, Elie Skaff, who had been recently married. Skaff is regarded as a political rival of the President of the Republic. The well-wishers later gathered at Skaff's home to present their congratulations.

In general, the Government does not interfere with the establishment of private organizations. However, citizens require government approval to establish political parties. The army intelligence service monitors the movement and activities of members of opposition groups.

The Ministry of Interior, which is empowered to grant permits, scrutinizes requests to establish political movements or parties and to some extent monitors their activities.

Neither Israel nor Syria allow groups openly hostile to them to operate in areas under their control.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice. However, there are some limitations. Travel to Israel is prohibited by law, but many do so through Israeli-controlled territory in southern Lebanon. All males of between 18 and 21 years of age are subject to compulsory military service and are required to register at a recruitment office and obtain a travel authorization document before leaving the country. Husbands may block foreign travel by their wives and minor children.

Lebanese armed forces and Syrian troops maintain checkpoints in areas under their control. In south Lebanon, the Lebanese Army, the Israeli Army, and the SLA all maintain tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the so-called "security zone."

There are no legal restrictions on the right of all citizens to return. Many emigres, however, are reluctant to return for a variety of political, economic, and social reasons. After years of internal conflict, the recent spread of government authority has removed barriers that previously hindered domestic travel. The Government has encouraged the return to their homes of over 600,000 persons displaced during the civil war. Although some people have begun to reclaim their homes abandoned during the war, the vast majority of displaced persons have not attempted to reclaim their property. The resettlement process is slowed by tight budgetary constraints, destroyed infrastructure, the lack of schools and economic opportunities, and the fear that physical security is still lacking in some parts of the country.

Most non-Lebanese refugees are Palestinians. The Government has estimated their number at 361,000, but this figure includes only the families of refugees who arrived in 1948. Other estimates of the actual number of Palestinians now in Lebanon range from 450,000 to 500,000.

The Government refused to admit two Palestinians deported by Israel in April. The two were still lodged at the UNIFIL headquarters in Naqura at year's end. The Government issues laissez-passers (travel documents) to Palestinian refugees to enable them to travel and work abroad. However, after the

Government of Libya announced in September its intention to expel Palestinians working in that country, the Lebanese Government moved to prohibit the return of Palestinians living abroad unless they obtain an entry visa. The Government maintained that the visa requirement is necessary to ensure the validity of Lebanese laissez-passers, as a large number of those documents were forged during the years of strife.

The Government seeks to prevent the entry of asylum seekers and undocumented refugees. There have been no known asylum requests since 1975.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution states that citizens have the right to change their government in periodic free and fair elections. However, the last parliamentary election, held in 1992, was not prepared or carried out impartially. The majority of Christians and many Muslims boycotted that election as candidates and voters to protest the holding of an election before the redeployment of Syrian forces.

According to the Constitution, elections for the parliament must be held every 4 years. The parliament, in turn, elects the president every 6 years. The president and parliament nominate the prime minister, who with the president chooses the cabinet. According to the unwritten "National Pact" of 1943, the president is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shi'a Muslim. Until 1990, seats in parliament were divided on a six-to-five ratio of Christians to Muslims. Positions in the Government were allocated on a similar basis between Christians and Muslims.

Under the national reconciliation agreement reached in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in 1989, members of parliament agreed to alter the National Pact to create a 50-50 balance between Christian and Muslim members of parliament. The Taif Accord also increased the number of seats in parliament and transferred some powers from the president to the prime minister and cabinet.

By Constitution the president is not allowed to succeed himself. Nonetheless, in October parliament passed a constitutional amendment by a vote of 110 to 11 which extended the term of President Elias Hrawi for an additional 3 years. The amendment was earlier proposed by the president himself and approved by the cabinet, despite the existence of strong public sentiment against the move. Supporters of the extension maintained that Lebanon should not change its political leadership during the peace negotiations with Israel. However, the critics claimed that President Hrawi's extension was assured because many of Lebanon's political leaders show deference to the influence of Syria on matters related to national security and the peace process. The critics also claimed that the amendment was an extraordinary move tailored for only one individual, thus undermining the rule of law and casting further doubt on the right to citizens to change their government.

Moreover, the right of citiznes to change their government was undermined by a decision taken by Parliament in May to extend the term in office of the country's municipal officials to December 31, 1996. That action postponed local elections that would have otherwise been required by June. Municipal elections have not been held since 1963.

In July Nasri Maloof won a seat in Parliament in an election occasioned by the death of the incumbent. An estimated 3.9 percent of the eligible voters in Maloof's district cast their ballots. Government critics point to this low voter turnout as evidence of the public's disaffection with the country's political institutions.

Women have the right to vote, and there are no legal barriers to their participation in politics. Three women were elected to Parliament in 1992. Other women hold policy-level positions in the Government.

Palestinian refugees have no political rights. An estimated 17 Palestinian factions operate in Lebanon, generally organized around prominent individuals. Most Palestinians live in refugee camps controlled by one or more factions. The leaders of the refugees are not elected, nor are there any democratically organized institutions in the camps.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several human rights groups operate freely without government restriction, including the Lebanese Association for Human Rights, the Foundation for Humanitarian and Human Rights-Lebanon, and the National Association for the Rights of the Disabled. Some of these groups have sought to publicize the detention in Syria of dozens of Lebanese citizens. The Government has made no public comments on the issue.

In January, for the first time since the Al-Khiyam detention center was opened in 1985 in the Israeli-occupied "security zone", the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was allowed to organize family visits to the detainees held there (also see Section 1.d.).

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution calls for "social justice and equality of duties and rights among all citizens without prejudice or favoritism." In practice, aspects of the law and traditional mores discriminate against women.

Women

The press reports cases of rape with increasing frequency; what is reported appears to be only a fraction of the actual level of abuse. In general, battered or abused women do not talk about their sufferings for fear of bringing shame upon their own families or accusations of misbehavior upon themselves. There are no authoritative statistics on the extent of spousal abuse. Doctors and social workers believe that most abused women do not seek medical help. The Government does not provide medical assistance to battered women or victims; it provides legal assistance to victims who cannot pay regardless of the gender of the victim. Since 1991 the Government has begun to increase sentences on violent crimes in general and to seek punishment for males who commit "crimes of honor" (see Section 1.e.). The Lebanese Association for Combatting Violence Against Women, founded in 1994, has been active in lobbying to improve the socio-economic condition of women and to reduce violence against women.

Women have employment opportunities in government, medicine, law, academia, the arts, and, to a lesser degree, in business. However, social pressure against women pursuing careers is strong in some parts of Lebanese society. Males sometimes exercise considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives. Women may own property but often cede effective control over it for cultural reasons. In 1994 the Parliament amended a law removing a stipulation that a woman must obtain her husband's approval to open a business or engage in a trade.

Only males may confer citizenship on their spouses and children. This means that children born to Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers may not become citizens. In late 1995, the Parliament approved a law allowing Lebanese widows to confer citizenship on their minor children.

Religious groups have their own family and personal status laws administered by religious courts. Each group differs in its treatment of marriage, family property rights, and inheritance. Many of these laws discriminate against women. For example, Sunni inheritance law gives a son twice the share of a daughter. Although Muslim men may divorce easily, Muslim women may do so only with the concurrence of their husbands.

Children

The plight of children is a growing concern, but the Government has not allocated funds to protect them. Education is not compulsory, and many children take jobs at a young age to support their families. In lower income families, boys generally get more education while girls usually remain at home to do housework.

An undetermined number of children are neglected, abused, exploited, and even sold to adoption agents. There are hundreds of abandoned children in the streets, some of whom survive by begging, others by working at low wages. Juvenile delinquency is on the rise; many delinquents wait in ordinary prisons for trial and remain there after sentencing. Limited financial resources have hindered efforts to build adequate facilities to rehabilitate delinquents. There are neither child welfare programs nor government institutions to oversee the implementation of children's programs. A committee for children's rights, formed 2 years ago by prominent public and private citizens, has been lobbying for legislation to improve the condition of children.

People with Disabilities

Over 100,000 people sustained disabilities during the civil war. Care of the disabled is generally a function performed by families. Most efforts to secure education, independence, health, and shelter for the disabled are made by some 100 private organizations for the disabled. In general, these organizations are poorly funded.

Lebanon's heavily damaged cities make no accommodation for the disabled. Building codes have no requirements for ease of access.

Religious Minorities

Discrimination based on religion is built into the system of government. The amended Constitution of 1990 embraces the principles of abolishing religious affiliation as a criterion for filling all government positions, but no steps have been taken to accomplish this.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the United Nations, an estimated 250,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon. Most Palestinian refugees live in overpopulated camps that have suffered repeated destruction as a result of fighting. The Government has instructed relief workers to suspend reconstruction work in the camps, and refugees fear that in the future the Government will reduce the size of the camps or remove them completely.

The Government ended its practice of denying work permits to Palestinians in 1991. Nonetheless, Palestinians still encounter job discrimination. They and other aliens may own land of a limited size but only after obtaining the approval of 5 different district offices. The law applies to all aliens, but for political, cultural, and economic reasons it is applied in a manner disadvantageous to Palestinians and, to a lesser extent, Kurds. The Government does not provide health services to Palestinian refugees, who must rely on private means.

In recent years, Palestinian incomes have declined as the Palestinian Liberation Organization closed many of its offices in Lebanon, which formerly employed as much as 50 percent of the Palestinian work force. Palestinian children have reportedly been forced to leave school at an early age because U.N. relief workers do not have sufficient funds for education programs. The U.N. estimates that 18 percent of Lebanese street children are Palestinian. Drug addiction and crime are increasing in the camps, as is prostitution.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

All workers, except government employees, may establish and join unions and have a legal right to strike. Worker representatives must be chosen from those employed within the bargaining unit. About 900,000 persons form the active labor force, 42 percent of whom are members of Lebanon's 160 labor unions and associations. Twenty-two of the unions, with about 200,000 workers, are represented in the General Confederation of Workers (CGTL).

In general, the Government does not control or restrict unions, although union leaders allege that the Government has tried to intervene in elections for union officials.

Palestinian refugees may organize their own unions, but restrictions on their right to work make this right more theoretical than real. Few Palestinians participate actively in trade unions.

Public school teachers, the staff at Lebanese University, Trans-Mediterranean Airways employees, Beirut port workers, and municipal contract workers (principally garbage collectors) staged strikes in several cities in 1995.

In June the Government approved a nationwide wage increase, but sought to finance it by additional taxes on gasoline and other commodities. The CGTL called for a general strike and demonstrations on July 19 to protest the gasoline tax hike. Reportedly, the Government arrested about 130 persons and later charged 78 of them for creating a public disturbance, conducting a demonstration without a permit, and carrying guns. Thirty-nine persons were acquitted and 29 were sentenced to prisons sentences of either 1 or 3 months, which were later reduced to fines of $60 and $120 respectively.

Unions are free to affiliate with international federations and confederations, and they maintain a variety of such affiliations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right of workers to organize and to bargain exists in law and practice. Most workers' groups engage in some form of collective bargaining with their employers. Stronger federations obtain significant gains for their members, and on occasion have assisted nonunionized workers. There is no government mechanism to promote voluntary labor-management negotiations, and workers have no protection against antiunion discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although forced labor is not prohibited by law, it is neither practiced nor condoned by the Government. However, children, foreign domestic servants, or other foreign workers are sometimes forced to remain in situations amounting to coerced or bonded labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The 1946 Labor Code stipulates that workers between the ages of 8 and 16 may not work more than 7 hours a day, with 1 hour of rest provided after 4 hours. They are also prohibited from working between the hours of 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. There is a general prohibition against "jobs out of proportion with a worker's age." The Code also prohibits certain types of mechanical work for children ages 8 to 13, and other types for those ages 13 to 16. The Labor Ministry is tasked with enforcing these requirements, but the civil war left it with few resources and a demoralized and sometimes corrupt staff. The Ministry does not rigorously apply the law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Ministry sets a legal monthly minimum wage, which was raised in June to about $156 (250,000 pounds). The law is not enforced effectively in the private sector. In theory the courts could be called upon to enforce it, but in practice they are not. Trade unions actively try to ensure the payment of minimum wages in both the public sector and the large-scale private sector, such as education and transport.

The labor law prescribes a standard 6-day workweek of 48 hours, with a 24-hour rest period per week. In practice, workers in the industrial sector work an average of 35 hours a week, and workers in other sectors work an average of 30 hours a week. The law includes specific occupational health and safety regulations. Labor regulations call on employers to take adequate precautions for employee safety. Enforcement, the responsibility of the Labor Ministry, is uneven. Labor organizers report that workers do not have the right to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardizing their continued employment.

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