Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October 2014, 16:03 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Lebanon

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Lebanon, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30cb6c.html [accessed 23 October 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 2 Watch List)

Lebanon is a source and destination country for women and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The country is also a transit point for Eastern European women and children subjected to sex trafficking in other Middle Eastern countries. Women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Madagascar who travel to Lebanon with the assistance of recruitment agencies to work in domestic service are often subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including withholding of passports, nonpayment of wages, threat of arrest and deportation, restrictions on movement, verbal abuse, and physical assault. Workers who leave their employers' house without permission or a "release paper" 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 in Lebanon threaten workers with the loss of this legal immigration status in order to keep them in forced labor and, in some cases, have kept foreign domestic workers confined in residences for years. A highly publicized case of an Ethiopian domestic worker who was publicly beaten by a Lebanese recruitment agent in March 2012 exemplified the abuse suffered by domestic workers in Lebanon; the worker committed suicide shortly after the incident was reported in the media.

The government's artiste visa program facilitates the entry of women from Eastern Europe, Morocco, and Tunisia on three-month visas to work as dancers in Lebanon's adult entertainment industry; 6,024 women entered Lebanon in 2011 under this visa program, which sustains 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 prostitution, 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 victims of forced labor within the country, particularly in street begging as well as commercial sexual exploitation facilitated by male pimps, husbands, and "boyfriends," and at times through early marriage. Small numbers of Lebanese girls may be taken to other Arab countries for exploitation in prostitution.

The Government of Lebanon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government enacted an anti-trafficking law, implemented awareness campaigns for foreign workers, increased investigations into allegations of abuse, and referred an increased number of victims for assistance. The government made combating human trafficking a national priority and demonstrated concerted efforts to educate the public on human trafficking. The government failed to show substantial progress in identifying foreign or Lebanese victims of trafficking – particularly victims of domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation – and allocated minimal resources to protecting victims. The government also failed to bring specific charges of forced labor or forced prostitution in cases involving abuses against migrant workers and did not assign adequate punishment to deter such crimes.

Recommendations for Lebanon: Implement the new anti-trafficking law by investigating and prosecuting trafficking offenses, and convicting and punishing trafficking offenders; enact the labor law amendment extending legal protections to foreign workers and the draft law providing increased labor protections to domestic workers, including foreign domestic workers; enforce the law prohibiting the confiscation of passports belonging to foreign migrants arriving in Lebanon; provide protection to victims, as stipulated in the anti-trafficking law; train police, judges, prosecutors, and other government officials about the new anti-trafficking law and how to enforce it; provide services such as shelter, access to legal aid and interpretation, and counseling to migrant workers and Lebanese nationals who are victims of forced labor and forced prostitution; 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 his or her employer's house during time off and retain his or her passport.

Prosecution

The government increased its capacity to conduct anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts by enacting comprehensive legislation and investigating some suspected trafficking cases. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of sex trafficking or forced labor per se, but it did report two convictions that may have involved forced labor. In August 2011, Parliament passed Anti-Trafficking Law Number 164, which prohibits and punishes all forms of trafficking. The prescribed penalties for sex trafficking and forced labor range from five to 15 years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Lebanon's criminal code also prohibits all forms of human trafficking, though prosecutions usually rely on Article 554 (personal injuries) rather than articles prohibiting forced labor, slavery, or forced prostitution. A labor law amendment that would extend legal protections to foreign workers has not yet been submitted to the cabinet by the Ministry of Labor; as drafted, however, the amendment did not cover foreign domestic workers, who constitute the majority of foreign migrant workers in Lebanon.

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 using the existing forced labor statutes in Lebanon's penal code. Pursuit of such cases appeared to have been hampered by bureaucratic indifference and inefficiency, limited coordination between relevant ministries, court backlogs, and a lack of sufficient anti-trafficking training among police and judges, as well as cultural biases, particularly against foreign domestic workers. Given the significant hurdles to pursuing criminal complaints in the Lebanese court system and victims' lack of adequate legal representation and knowledge of their rights, many foreign victims opted for quick administrative settlements followed by repatriation. Evidence suggests, however, that many cases were not resolved, and trafficking victims were deported without receiving their due wages. The Ministries of Labor and Justice and the SG provided information on their anti-trafficking efforts, but because of poor recordkeeping, data was incomplete and may be unreliable. The Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the SG reportedly investigated 16 suspected trafficking cases involving sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, physical abuse, unpaid wages, and exploitation of others in prostitution in 2011; fifteen of these were determined to constitute trafficking, and investigations into all 15 cases were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Two of these investigations involved four Tunisian women holding artiste visas who were allegedly falsely promised jobs as secretaries, but forced into prostitution in a nightclub in Lebanon; while the SG notified the Tunisian embassy of the case, the SG deported the four artistes without providing them protective services. In 2011, the government reported two convictions that may have involved forced labor, yet the courts failed to prosecute the offenders under forced labor statutes. In October 2011, pursuant to Article 554 (personal injuries) of the criminal code, the employer of a Filipina domestic worker was convicted of physical abuse, sentenced to 10 days' imprisonment, and required to pay the victim the equivalent of $666 in compensation. The other conviction, rendered in July 2011 pursuant to Article 624 of the criminal code, required the employer to pay the domestic worker for the period worked, which was the equivalent of $700. Although the SG reportedly investigated the incident of a recruitment agent who publicly beat an Ethiopian domestic worker in March 2012, the agent was briefly arrested and then released without charge. The government did not provide or fund specialized training for its officials to recognize, investigate, or prosecute cases of trafficking; however, government officials, including from the SG and ISF, social workers, judges, labor inspectors, and prosecutors participated in numerous NGO-run anti-trafficking trainings in 2011.

Protection

The government improved protection efforts, but did not make sufficient efforts to ensure trafficking victims received access to protective services or had resources to provide for their care during the reporting period. The new anti-trafficking law stipulates that the Ministry of Justice subcontract NGOs to provide victim assistance and protection; implementation decrees for the relevant article are pending cabinet approval. Law enforcement, immigration, and social services officials currently lack, but are working to develop, a formal system for proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations with which they come in contact. This continued lack of systematic procedures led to the deportation of most domestic workers who fled their employers and those holding artiste visas who complained of abuse. Out-of-status migrant workers were generally not prosecuted or fined, but were typically arrested, detained, and deported without being screened for indicators of trafficking. Detention typically lasted for one to two months, but NGOs report some cases of arbitrary detention lasted longer. The SG continued to fund and operate a prison-style detention center in Beirut for up to 500 migrant workers in violation of their visa status or awaiting disposition of their cases. While the SG used a registration and identification system in the detention center to notify embassies from source countries of the presence of their nationals in detention, this system failed to provide specific guidance for identifying which detainees were victims of trafficking. The SG, however, permitted an NGO to interview detainees to identify trafficking victims among them. In 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. An NGO observed that the SG began processing cases more quickly and efficiently this year.

The government did not provide or fund shelters for trafficking victims, though it relied on an NGO safe house to provide a range of victim services to female victims of trafficking. Pursuant to a 2005 memorandum of understanding between the SG and the NGO, the SG was required to refer trafficking victims to the safe house and to provide security for the location. Of the 214 cases of trafficking received by the safe house in 2011, the SG and the ISF referred 17, an increase from the seven victims the two agencies referred the previous year. The NGO noted improved cooperation with the SG over the last year in referring trafficking victims. 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

Although the Government of Lebanon made improved efforts to prevent trafficking over the last year through information awareness campaigns, deficiencies remained that put foreign migrant workers, particularly domestic workers, at risk of forced labor and other exploitation. In February 2012, SG officers at Beirut National Airport began distributing two booklets to migrant domestic workers upon their arrival at the airport; one booklet includes information on the anti-trafficking law and is printed in six languages, while the other is a booklet on rights and obligations printed in eight languages. Despite this awareness campaign and a law prohibiting the confiscation of passports belonging to foreign migrants arriving in Lebanon, the SG required that, upon arrival to the country, foreign migrants surrender their passports to their sponsors, which limits workers' freedom of movement and makes them vulnerable to situations of human trafficking. The standard unified employment contract for migrant workers, 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 very few can read. The labor ministry continues to operate a hotline, established in April 2010, to receive labor complaints from foreign workers; however, it is unknown how many calls it received during the reporting period. The Ministry of Labor provided no statistics documenting the work of its 130 inspectors charged with investigating situations of forced adult and child labor, and Lebanon's 501 licensed employment agencies received little oversight by the ministry. The SG continued to implement 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; however, Lebanese authorities did not provide protective services to Moldovan victims of sex trafficking. In September 2011, the Office of the Prime Minister established and convened a national anti-trafficking stakeholders group, which included experts from Lebanese government ministries, civil society, and international organizations, to discuss integrating a chapter on human trafficking within the national human rights draft action plan. The government's two national human trafficking steering committees, established in 2006, advised the government on draft laws and decrees and prevention campaigns; however, neither committee met during this reporting period. 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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