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Press Release
UNITED NATIONS

HR/CT/492
7 April 1997


HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONCLUDES CONSIDERATION OF LEBANON'S REPORT

Concluding their examination of Lebanon's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, expert members of the Human Rights Committee this afternoon urged the Government of Lebanon to ensure full implementation of the Covenant's provisions and to enter into dialogue with non-governmental organizations concerned with human rights towards that end.

The expert from Australia said full respect for human rights must be a building block for Lebanon, as it now moved forward. A positive dialogue between the Government and human rights non-governmental organizations should be encouraged. She cited a wide range of specific concerns, including: the extensive use of military courts to try civilians; the length of pre-trial detention; the allegations of mistreatment which were not acknowledged; prison conditions; bans on demonstrations; invasions of the right to free expression; and the extent of acknowledged discrimination in law and in practice. A comprehensive plan was needed to tackle each of those problems, she said.

The expert from Germany said the State had an obligation under the Covenant to protect the individual against all violations of human rights committed on Lebanese territory, as far as its authority extended. He remained concerned about the military courts, including the range of their jurisdiction and difficulties the defence might encounter. The "evasive attitude" by the Lebanese authorities in responding to reports of various violations of rights, such as torture of detainees by internal security forces, did "not help" the Committee in performing its tasks as a monitoring body.

The expert from Egypt said the situation in Lebanon had now been turned around, and there was now a need for new legislation in line with the Covenant. There did not seem to be true cooperation between the Government and Lebanese non-governmental organizations active in the field of human rights. The Committee had been unable to ascertain whether the courts in Lebanon applied the provisions of the Covenant.

The expert from Chile said the Covenant seemed to enjoy little preference in Lebanon. She had the impression that Lebanon was not complying with its obligations to guarantee human rights. That could be seen in the confiscation of passports of foreign domestic workers, for example. Any State where there were accusations of torture had an obligation to investigate them and report to the Committee on its findings. "But we weren't told anything like this today", she said. "It is my impression, therefore, that the State doesn't understand that it is supposed to guarantee human rights."

The expert from France and Chairperson of the Committee said Lebanon had emerged from civil war and was not in total control of all of its national territory, which must not be lost sight of when evaluating its report. She noted the acknowledgement of the delegation that some provisions of the Covenant had still not been enforced and that dissemination of information about the Covenant had been left to non-governmental organizations. Having acceded to the Covenant, it was important that the rule of law was observed in Lebanon. She hoped appreciable progress on all those areas would be made and reflected in its next periodic report.

Also participating in the discussion of Lebanon's report this afternoon were the experts from Canada, Colombia, Japan, Italy and India.

In his final statement, Nabil Maamari, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry of Lebanon and leader of the delegation, expressed regret that the report and his answers had not been very detailed. The comments and recommendations of the expert members of the Committee would be transmitted to his Government, he said.

Also this afternoon, the expert from Chile reported on her preparations for the drafting of general comments on Article 3 of the Covenant. By its terms, the States parties undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the Covenant.

The expert from Germany reported on his preparations for the drafting of general comments on Article 12 of the Covenant, by which everyone lawfully within the territory of a State has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his or her residence there. The Article affirms the right of all to leave any country, including their own, adding that none shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter their own country.

The Human Rights Committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 8 April.

Committee Work Programme

The Human Rights Committee met this afternoon to conclude its examination of the second periodic report of Lebanon (document CCPR/C/42/Add.14) on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The delegation of Lebanon was expected to respond to part two of a list of issues submitted by expert members of the Committee. (For background on the report of Lebanon, see Press Release HR/CT/491 issued today.)

Response of Lebanon

NABIL MAAMARI, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry of Lebanon, said that the preamble to the Lebanese constitution stated that Lebanon was bound by international legal instruments. It confirmed the application of international laws in Lebanon once they were ratified. In case of conflict between domestic and international laws, he said the latter prevailed. It was important to distinguish between international laws that were technical and detailed in scope and general international legal instruments.

Replying to questions on gender equality, he said women had the right to participate like men in public life. They exercised their right to vote and could stand for elective office and 14 per cent of magistrates were women. There were also women in the social sectors of the armed forces. It was expected that there would be women candidates in the forthcoming municipal elections. No law authorized violence against women and such acts were dealt with by law. Adultery by both women and men was punishable under Lebanese law, while there were suggestions being made to amend the law.

With regard to questions on freedom of conscience and religion, he said the practice of religion was not limited. Lebanese legislation referred to religious laws and courts. There were no civil or secular laws to regulate marriage. In cases of marital disputes, Lebanese magistrates took account of the laws of the country where the marriage was contracted.

He said there was no press censorship. Freedom of expression, assembly and association were recognized, although demonstrations had been banned at present. Some public meetings were, however, allowed. A Lebanese statute prohibited civil servants from engaging in trade unions or collective bargaining. Young civil servants had set up an association to represent their interests. Teachers could strike just like workers in the private sector. For economic reasons, children 13 years of age could work to help their parents, although they could not work in dangerous jobs or at night. There was a serious problem of street children in Lebanon, which had not been solved. Many of the children were foreign residents.

Questions from Experts

MAXWELL YALDEN, expert from Canada, asked about the status of women with respect to employment. Certain figures had been provided regarding access to employment, including the number of doctors, lawyers and teachers. Those numbers demonstrated that there had been some progress since 1980. There was no information regarding the public sector, but some information had just been provided. However, the situation they portrayed was not very impressive. The report stated that women had access to the civil service. However, was the Government doing anything to remedy their virtual absence from the public sector?

Citing the situation of the Palestinians in Lebanon, he asked for information on the regime governing ethnic and linguistic minorities. What actions had the Government taken with respect to minorities? The report gave little description of the functions of the parliamentary commission for the protection of human rights, or any other human rights institutions. The report referred to a procurator general, but did not describe that person's functions. Was there a human rights mechanism in Lebanon that was politically and financially independent? What were the Government's intentions with respect to the establishment of such a mechanism?

PILAR GAITAN DE POMBO, expert from Colombia, said she could not find any information in the report on measures to ensure the Covenant's provisions on freedom of expression. On the question of detention and forced disappearances, it appeared that there was no communication between the governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations on human rights. What happened concerning such disappearances since 1990, some of which included well-known persons? Why did the Government hold that the dissemination of information on the Covenant rested only with the non-governmental organizations?

OMRAN EL-SHAFEI, expert from Egypt, said Lebanon had long enjoyed freedom of expression. During the civil war, there had been an increase in radio and television stations. In 1994 a law was promulgated requiring work permits for such stations. The Committee had received information indicating that those permits limited what the stations could include in their political programmes. Did such measures comply with the Covenant? What did the Government intend to do to address the matter?

The report indicates that laws were introduced to address discrimination against women, he said. It also indicated that Lebanon would soon accede to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Had it done so? Did the Government intend to address certain discriminatory provisions concerning Lebanese citizenship?

CECILIA MEDINA QUIROGA, expert from Chile, expressed surprise at the brief treatment given in Lebanon's report to discrimination against women. The Covenant required that the State party not only respect human rights, but guarantee them. The report explicitly admitted the existence of a number of discriminatory laws, and the delegation had not offered any firm commitment that such laws would be amended. One example was a provision of the penal code that applied to a woman who was found in a compromised position. That could mean anything, she said.

No information had been provided on household violence, or on the criteria used to define rape and for the handing out of punishment, she continued. Nothing had been said about the efforts to ensure that religious laws regarding marriage were brought into compliance with the Covenant. What was the State doing to solve the problem of household employees who were not the subject of any legislation? That included foreign employees, who were subjected to many human rights violations, including the confiscation of their passports. There seemed to be no political will to change that situation.

Freedom of conscience was more than freedom of religion, she said. It involved the freedom to hold beliefs of any kind. A person could not even be buried without belonging to a particular religious community. That was a violation of the Covenant. What criteria were used in the granting of licenses to television stations? Were foreign newspapers subject to any prior review, as was apparently the case with satellite television programmes?

She said the Committee had information that not all bodies were given the same free association protections. That applied, for instance, to trade unions. What were the implications of the compulsory medical examination of men and women before marriage, so as to reduce the risks of children being born with congenital defects.

ELIZABETH EVATT, expert from Australia, expressed concern about lack of detailed responses from Lebanon. Were there any precedents on which Covenant provisions could be relied upon by individuals for redress? Had the Covenant been mentioned in deliberations of the new constitutional court? If married life was governed by religious law, which department of Government had responsibility to ensure that such laws were brought into line with Covenant provisions?

With regard to the reported discrimination against women workers of Middle East Airlines, she asked what recourse they had for remedy. What exactly was the problem regarding travel by wives and children? How were Covenant provisions on the right to freedom of thought, religion or belief respected with regard to those who did not belong to the country's recognized religions? What independent agency had been established to preside over allocation of licenses for television broadcasts? Without legal authority, those allocations could not be judged to be compatible with Covenant provisions. She also said that prohibition of demonstrations and assembly had been in force for too long.

FAUSTO POCAR, expert from Italy asked what recourse was available to the associations that handled problems of foreign domestic workers. Once their passports were seized by their employees, such workers could be subjected to all sorts of abuses, such as being made to work for 24 hours. He also sought clarification on the medical requirements for marriage. How were marriages contracted abroad regarded under Lebanese law, and how was divorce handled? He also requested information on the conditions required for the formation of trade unions.

NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, asked whether there had been cases involving defamation of the head of State of Lebanon. Had there been any cases of film censorship? Why had Lebanon not ratified many of the conventions of the International Labour Organization?

Responding, Mr. MAAMARI, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry, said there had been no special effort by the Government to encourage women to participate actively in politics. He said Palestinians, like any other foreigners, had access to the courts. There were 16 commissions of parliament, one of which dealt with human rights issues. The Council for the Order of Lawyers had also set up a commission on human rights. Lebanon had no ombudsman. The general prosecutor represented the public interest in the courts.

With regard to freedom of expression, he said communication between associations and the Government was carried out in the normal way and there was no institution for that purpose. On pluralism in the field of information, he said that technical and not political criteria were applied in the issue of television broadcast licenses.

He said the Government had ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. There were large numbers of non- Lebanese, particularly Palestinians, in the country. The question raised about women employees with the Middle East Airlines was a labour problem between a company and its employees and would be settled under Lebanese labour laws.

Efforts were being made to bring Lebanese law into line with the provisions of the Covenant, he said. It was an ongoing process that would take time. He was not aware of cases brought for defamation of the head of State. Atheists were free to declare their convictions. A ministerial committee was working on a draft law for the forthcoming municipal elections. The fact that civil servants might not establish trade unions was a problem which would have to be resolved. Associations which represented foreign domestic workers had various means available to them for remedies on behalf of the workers. Couples married abroad did not have to return there to resolve any marital disputes, as Lebanese courts applied the laws of those countries.

MARTIN SCHEININ, expert from Finland, asked for further clarification with respect to freedom of expression and the licensing of broadcasting. The questions had been more detailed than the answers. Had broadcasting licenses been given to high government officials or state officials? The independent nature of the licensing process must be ensured.

Mr. MAAMARI, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry, said he did not believe the use of broadcasting frequencies could be authorized without any technical limitations. The criteria used did not favour officials; they favoured those companies which had the means for broadcasting. All those who met the objective criteria for broadcasting were granted licenses, making it possible to expand the number of television stations. No one was banned from submitting a request, which must be considered according to purely objective criteria.

Concluding Comments

ECKART KLEIN, expert from Germany, said he thought he understood the problems Lebanon was facing because of the general political situation in that part of the world. He did not underrate the difficulties. However, despite some efforts made by the Government, in some areas the situation was still not satisfying. The State had an obligation under the Covenant to protect the individual against all violations of human rights committed on Lebanese territory, as far as its authority extended.

He remained concerned about the military courts, including the range of their jurisdiction and difficulties the defence might encounter. There were also reports of the torture of detainees by internal security forces. There were reports of detainees dying during such interrogation. Yet, the delegation said it had no information at all about such cases. "This evasive attitude does not help us very much in performing our tasks as a monitoring body", he said.

OMRAN EL-SHAFEI, expert from Egypt, said that during its difficulties of the past 15 years, the entire state structure of Lebanon had collapsed. There were abuses, murders, assassinations and abductions of Lebanese and others. They were carried out by armed militias, and the Israeli occupation had not ceased, continuing to have an impact on the country's stability and security. The situation in Lebanon had now been turned around and there was now a need for new legislation in line with the Covenant.

There did not seem to be true cooperation between the Government and Lebanese non-governmental organizations active in the field of human rights, he said. Those organizations seemed to have had great difficulty in obtaining copies of Lebanon's second periodic report. It was hoped that situation would be improved.

The Committee had been unable to ascertain whether the courts in Lebanon applied the provisions of the Covenant, he said. The fact that certain security functions were given to the army in states of emergency was a matter of concern, as was the situation with respect to independence of the judiciary. Also of concern was the situation with respect to the employment of foreign workers in Lebanon. The State must ensure application of the relevant conventions. What were the obstacles preventing the departure of a foreign worker from the country, if that worker so desired?

Ms. MEDINA QUIROGA, expert from Chile, expressed disappointment that the responses of the Lebanese delegation had been so brief. The Covenant seemed to enjoy little preference in Lebanon. She had the impression that Lebanon was not complying with the obligation to guarantee human rights. That could be seen in the confiscation of passports, for example. The delegation had said that was in the hands of the consul of that person's country. It appeared that the State did not understand its responsibility to deal with such issues.

Any State where there were accusations of torture had an obligation to investigate them and report to the Committee on its findings, she said. "But we weren't told anything like this today. It is my impression, therefore, that the State doesn't understand that it is supposed to guarantee human rights", she said. With respect to the human rights of women, the delegation had stated that civilian bodies were promoting them. It was the State that had ratified the Covenant.

She said she was concerned about torture, arrests, the situation of women and the problem of military courts. There was not a single page of Lebanon's report that did not give rise to serious comments on the incompatibility between its legislation and its obligations under the Covenant. She hoped that the next report would demonstrate that some progress had been made.

Mr. POCAR, expert from Italy, said measures to implement the Covenant in Lebanon remained insufficient. It seemed that while there was goodwill on the part of the State authorities to take the necessary steps, there were obstacles and difficulties that kept them from following through. For example, labour legislation was needed to protect the rights of foreign workers. Where legislation protecting workers existed, however, its implementation posed problems. There was a need to ensure that if the legislation was not respected, administrative action would be taken. The impression left was that such protection was left to the goodwill of private associations.

Ms. EVATT, expert from Australia, said that even as the failure to respect human rights had contributed to the sort of problems Lebanon had experienced, full respect for human rights must be a building block for the country as it now moved forward. There seemed to be a credibility gap when the delegation said it was unaware of information of which the Committee had been informed by non-governmental organizations. Denial was no substitute for investigation and a coming to grips with reality.

A positive dialogue between the Government and human rights non- governmental organizations should be encouraged, she said. Common ground must be found between the agencies and the Government, in view of its responsibility to ensure implementation of those rights.

She cited a wide range of specific concerns, including: the extensive use of military courts to try civilians; the length of pre-trial detention; the allegations of mistreatment that were not acknowledged; the fact that some who were detained now appeared to be in the hands of Syrian authorities; the prison conditions; the bans on demonstrations; the invasions on the right to free expression; the extent of acknowledged discrimination in law and in practice; and the absence of any positive plan to deal with such discrimination and with violence against women. A comprehensive plan was needed to tackle each of those problems.

NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, hoped that the Government of Lebanon would comply with the international legal instruments it had become party to. The Government had to ensure implementation of rights and he hoped there would be evidence of that in the next report of Lebanon.

PRAFULLACHANDRA BHAGWATI, expert from India, expressed regret about the paucity of information on human rights in Lebanon. He shared the concerns expressed by his colleagues. He was unhappy about the fact that the marriages recognized were those contracted within the recognized religious communities. He was worried about the absence of training on human rights issues for judges, lawyers and police. He was extremely concerned about the absence of independence for judges, the manner of their appointment and the insecurity of their tenure. He also expressed concern about the situation of foreign domestic workers.

PILAR GAITAN DE POMBO, expert from Colombia, said Lebanon was a signatory of the Covenant and every effort should be made to implement all its provisions. The questions raised about disappeared persons should be dealt with. The delegation should convey to the Government the concerns expressed by the Committee. There should be widespread dissemination of information about the Covenant, she said.

CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France, and Chairperson of the Committee, said Lebanon had emerged from civil war and was not in total control of all of its national territory. It was, however, promoting human rights. She noted the acknowledgement of the delegation that some provisions of the Covenant had still not been enforced and that dissemination of information about the Covenant had been left to non-governmental organizations.

She said great concern had been expressed about reports of disappearances. The sources for those reports had been widespread.

She hoped Lebanon would become associated with calls for a moratorium on the death penalty. Committee members had referred to discrimination against women, and against atheists who did not enjoy rights of the recognized religious communities. Also, reference had been made to the problem of children forced to work during sensitive and formative stage of their lives. Having acceded to the Covenant, it was important that the rule of law be observed in Lebanon. She hoped appreciable progress on all those areas would be made and reflected in the next periodic report of Lebanon.

Mr. MAAMARI expressed regret that the report and his answers had not been very detailed. Comments and recommendations made by the members of the Committee would be transmitted to his Government, he said.


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