U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Lebanon
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Lebanon, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5534.html [accessed 19 September 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
LEBANONLebanon 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. The judiciary is generally independent, but is subject to political pressure. Non-Lebanese military forces control much of the country. These include about 25,000 Syrian troops, a contingent of Israeli army regulars and an Israeli-supported militia in the south, and several armed Palestinian factions. All undermine the authority of the central Government and prevent the application of law in the patchwork of areas not under the Government's control. In 1991 the governments of Syria and Lebanon concluded a security agreement that provided a framework for security cooperation between their armed forces. However, Syrian military 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 civil war in Lebanon. According to the Taif Accord, Syrian troops were to be redeployed from their positions in Lebanon's coastal population areas to the Biqa' Valley, with full withdrawal contingent upon fulfillment of other aspects of the Taif Accord and subsequent agreement by both the Lebanese and Syrian governments. Although the Syrian Government has refused to carry out this withdrawal from the coastal areas, strong Syrian influence over Lebanese politics and decisionmakers makes Lebanese officials unwilling to press for a complete withdrawal. The relationship with Syria does not reflect the will of most Lebanese citizens. Israel exerts control in and near its self-proclaimed security zone in south Lebanon through its surrogate, the South Lebanese Army (SLA), and the presence of about 1,000 Israeli regular troops. The Iranian-backed Shi'a Muslim faction Hizballah, with the tacit support of the Government and, to a lesser extent, Palestinian guerrillas continue to be locked in a cycle of attack and counterattack with Israeli and SLA troops typically. Palestinian groups operate autonomously in refugee camps throughout the country. During the year, the Government continued to consolidate its authority in the parts of the country under its control, and took tentative steps to extend its authority to the Biqa' Valley and Beirut's southern suburbs. However, it did not attempt to reassert state control over the Palestinian refugee camps, nor to disarm Hizballah and the SLA or dislodge Israel from the south. 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 censoring foreign periodicals and movies that treat national security issues. The security forces committed serious human rights abuses. Before the 1975-90 hostilities, Lebanon was an important regional financial and commercial center. There is a market-based economy in which the majority of the work force is employed in the services sector, e.g., banking and commerce. There is a small industrial sector, based largely on clothing manufacture and food processing. The gross national product is estimated to be approximately $5,000 per capita. A reconstruction effort, begun in 1992, is moving forward. Lebanon receives substantial remittances from abroad that offset its trade deficit and results in a balance of payments surplus. Since the end of hostilities, the Government has taken some limited steps to improve human rights conditions and serious problems remain in several areas. Members of the security forces used excessive force and tortured some detainees. Prison conditions remained poor. Government abuses also included the arbitrary arrest and detention of persons who opposed government policies. Long delays in trials are a problem. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The Government also partially limited press freedom, particularly by implementing the 1996 media law to restrict radio and television broadcasting in a discriminatory manner. Journalists practice self-censorship. The Government imposes limits on freedom of movement. The Government continued to restrict freedom of assembly and ban demonstrations. The right of citizens to change their government remains limited by shortcomings in the electoral system. Although the 1996 parliamentary elections represented a step forward, the electoral process was flawed, as the elections were not prepared or carried out impartially. The Government decision to postpone municipal elections until April 1999 (a decision subsequently overturned by the Constitutional Council) infringed on citizens' ability to change their government at the local level. In December the Parliament passed a law calling for municipal elections in mid-1998. Discrimination against women and Palestinians, and violence against women are problems. Although the overall level of armed conflict has declined in recent years, life and property, especially in the south, are still threatened by artillery and aerial attacks by the various contending forces. These forces continue to commit abuses, including killings, terrorist bombings, and abductions. The SLA maintains a separate and arbitrary system of justice in the Israeli-controlled zone, which is independent of Lebanese central authority. During the year, SLA officials arbitrarily arrested, mistreated, and detained persons, and expelled several local residents from their homes in the zone. Palestinian groups in refugee camps maintain a separate, arbitrary system of justice for other Palestinians. Members of the various Palestinian groups that control the camps tortured and detained their Palestinian rivals.