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UNITED NATIONS


4 March 2004

COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CONSIDERS REPORTS OF LEBANON

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the fourteenth to sixteenth periodic reports of Lebanon on its implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the reports was Gebran Soufan, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, who said there were no racial barriers between Lebanese themselves or Lebanese and non-Lebanese, nor were there despicable doctrines of superiority, apartheid, segregation or separation in Lebanon. Lebanon neither had the illusion nor the pretension that its juridical and political systems were perfect. Lebanon knew that in a democratic regime, a gentle evolution of change was necessary, not a revolution.

Nabil Maamari, a Judicial Counselor and Professor of Law, also presented the reports, saying that Lebanon was founded on the co-existence of its 18 communities, a co-existence which necessitated tolerance, respect for others and guaranteeing the rights of each. No State had done as much for Palestinian refugees as Lebanon. Lebanon had improved the situation of the Palestinian refugees within its means, and continued to request aid from the international community to further improve their conditions.

Among the issues which came up in the course of the discussion, which was held over two meetings, were the situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, political confessionalism and migrant workers.

The Committee will present its concluding observations on the reports of Lebanon at the end of its session. In preliminary remarks, Committee Expert

Tang Chengyuan, who served as Rapporteur for the reports, said the Palestinian question was a political one and deserved the concern of the international community so that the rights of the Palestinians could be restored. The full responsibility for this problem should not rest solely with the Lebanese Government. On confessionalism, he said the solution to this matter was a gradual process, adding that the Committee was very concerned about the possible negative effects on the enjoyment of rights by minority groups.

The Lebanese delegation also included Antoine Chedid, Director of the Department of International Organizations and Conferences at the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, and Chucri Sader, Head of the Department of Legal and Legislation Matters at the Lebanese Ministry of Justice.

Yesterday afternoon, the Committee briefly discussed follow-up to the Durban Conference on racism. One of its members, Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai, gave an account of the work of the second session of the Working Group on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and its Programme of Action (26 January to 6 February 2004).

This afternoon at 3 p.m. the Committee will begin its review of the fifteenth and sixteenth periodic reports of Nepal.

Reports of Lebanon

The fourteenth to sixteenth periodic reports of Lebanon (CERD/C/383/Add.2) state that according to the Lebanese Constitution, the State shall respect all creeds and safeguard and protect the free exercise of all forms of worship, on condition that public order is not interfered with. It also guarantees that the personal status and religious interests of the people, to whatever creed they belong, shall be respected. The Constitution also declares that Lebanese communities shall be entitled to maintain their own schools, provided that they conform to the general State requirements relating to public instruction. Furthermore, the Electoral Act provides that the parliamentary seats for each district are distributed among the various communities in the district according to specific quotas, based on their numbers.

The reports state that there are two forms of confessionalism in Lebanon: confessionalism as to personal status and political confessionalism. Confessionalism as to personal status means that everything affecting the family comes under the laws drawn up by the various communities under the authority of the State, whereas political confessionalism means that political and administrative posts are distributed among the various communities.

Minorities in Lebanon include Latins, Syriacs (Catholic or Orthodox), Chaldeans, Assyrians (formerly known as Nestorians), Copts and Jews, according to the reports. On the issue of public service, the reports state that these functions shall be shared equally between Christians and Muslims, and that no function shall be reserved for a particular community, in accordance with the principles of specialization and competence. According to the country’s Criminal Code, any act, written word or statement whose object or effect is to incite religious or racial hatred or to promote dissension between the communities or different elements of the population is punishable by a prison term of one to three years.

There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, making up nearly 20 per cent of the inhabitants in the country, as well as Syrian, Egyptian, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Sri Lankan, Philippine, Indian and other workers. Some 800,000 foreigners work in the labor force and there are no restrictions on their freedom of conscience, freedom of association, their use of languages, freedom of worship or the celebration of their religious or secular holidays. In general, the reports state that the rights and freedoms of individuals and groups are established in Lebanese law without racial discrimination.

Presentation of the Reports

GEBRAN SOUFAN, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said, among other things, that there were no racial barriers between Lebanese themselves or Lebanese and non-Lebanese, nor were there despicable doctrines of superiority, apartheid, segregation or separation in Lebanon. In 1998, the Lebanese delegation apprised the Committee of developments that took place in Lebanon, amongst them the conclusion of the Taef Accord of 1989 a.k.a. the National Reconciliation Deed. In 2000, Lebanon had been able to restore its sovereignty over most of its southern territories occupied by Israel for seventeen years. This historical event meant that Lebanon was now able to resume the discussion with the Committee on the situation in the southern part of the country and the process of rehabilitation and reconstruction which was being undertaken there. Lebanon neither had the illusion nor the pretension that its juridical and political systems were perfect. Lebanon knew that regulations had to change for the better, and not for the worse. It also knew that in a democratic regime, a gentle evolution of change was necessary, not a revolution. Reform was not an end in itself but a permanent process to ensure the well being of the society.

NABIL MAAMARI, Judicial Counselor and Professor of Law, apologized for the late submission of the reports which was caused by regrettable administrative deficiencies. The end of political confessionalism had been established by the Taef Accord of 22 October, 1989, and by a Constitutional amendment on 21 September, 1990. Lebanon was founded on the co-existence of its 18 communities, a co-existence which necessitated tolerance, respect for others and guaranteeing the rights of each.

Mr. Maamari said no State had done as much for Palestinian refugees as Lebanon; they comprised 11 per cent of the population. The Palestinian problem was an international responsibility which could not in any way be solely the problem of Lebanon. Lebanon had improved the situation of the Palestinian refugees within its means, and continued to request aid from the international community to further improve their conditions.

Discussion

TANG CHENGYUAN, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the reports of Lebanon, said that in its final conclusions in 1998, the Committee had expressed its concern about the absence of an adequate legal definition and legal protection for various ethnic groups. It had also expressed concern over the possible negative effect of confessionalism on the implementation of the Convention in the country.

The Rapporteur noted that the report said that article 2 (d) of the Convention (which stipulated that each State party shall prohibit and bring to an end, by all appropriate means, including legislation as required by circumstances, racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization) was not yet implemented in Lebanon. He asked if that meant that legislative measures on the issue did not exist, or whether it meant that racial discrimination existed but was not being combated.

On the principle of jus sanguinis, Mr. Tang asked whether the principle, which stated that Lebanese nationality was only derived from the paternal side, might be reconsidered.

On the issue of Palestinian refugees, the Rapporteur asked several questions pertaining to the rights they had and their status in Lebanon. The points of particular concern were the ownership of property by these refugees and the fact that many Palestinian children were living in Lebanon below the poverty line. The Rapporteur asked whether the State party was doing anything to remedy this situation.

The Rapporteur made reference to Lebanon’s Constitutional amendment of September 1990 which related to the phasing out of confessionalism. He said this demonstrated that Lebanon had taken into consideration the need for political stability as well as the elimination of racial discrimination. He applauded Lebanon for these steps as well as for the remarks made by its Prime Minister in 1997 when he said “there will be no question of abolishing the communities, but a political class that is national and no longer confessional must be created, while parity is maintained between Christians and Muslims, as it is necessary for national stability”.

Mr. Tang also highlighted the importance of granting political, economic, cultural and educational rights to both Palestinian refugees and foreigners in general who accounted for 400,000 and 800,000 of the population, respectively. In closing, the Rapporteur said attention should be paid to the extremely difficult situation faced by the Palestinian refugees, in general, and that due attention should be paid to them by the Lebanese Government.

A Committee Expert commented that communalism could be inhibiting when it came to observing the rights of minorities and that the Lebanese Government should allow for exceptions for those individuals who did not wish to belong to a community. He added that it was important to keep elements in balance and ensure that general protection of a community did not spill over into discrimination against other groups. Another Committee Expert said that the system of confessionalism represented a unique distribution of public service posts. He highlighted the positive aspect that statistical data was included in the report which provided a breakdown of foreigners and job distribution among foreigners and also for providing a clear explanation for the status of domestic law in general.

Other Experts applauded the delegation for the measures presented in the report for the better protection of foreign workers, including mandatory insurance for all foreign workers and the arrangement finalized in September 2003 between UNHCR and the Government for improving the situation of refugees in Lebanon in general.

Also on the question of Palestinian refugees, an Expert drew attention to several reports by non-governmental organizations which were received by the Committee and which indicated that the refugees continued to suffer from discrimination; in particular, the problem of their social security. He also asked what measures had been put into practice to prohibit the confiscation of their passports.

Another Expert said that the Committee understood that the dislocation of Palestinian people had placed substantial burdens on Lebanon in the context of a very difficult political situation marked my profound suffering. Concern was expressed over the prohibition or restriction on ownership of property and inheritance by foreigners and the application of reciprocity and effect it had on Palestinians to work in Lebanon. Furthermore, an Expert asked whether Lebanon had addressed the problem concerning international security as a result of droves of Palestinian refugees entering Lebanon. Specifically a question was asked on who could control this influx and the potential problem of violence and terrorism as a result.

Referring to the Penal Code of Lebanon, an Expert asked the delegation to provide information on the numbers of complaints, verdicts and prosecutions carried out with respect to acts committed on racism and/or xenophobia.

Committee members were interested in learning more about how refugees were treated and how provisions in labour laws were applied to foreign workers. One Expert referred to Lebanon’s new labour code in parliament and asked what new innovations it represented, especially with regard to racial discrimination and foreign workers. Specifically, an Expert asked how the contracting process was regulated for domestic employees and what compensation measures were put in place for labor related accidents. Another Expert applauded the State party for giving prominence to the fight against racial discrimination by including the subject in the school curriculum.

Other questions were raised on the granting of citizenship to those not born in Lebanon, the steps taken, if any, by Lebanon to establish a national human rights institution, the issue of reciprocity agreements between Lebanon and the countries of origin of non-citizens, and the measures taken by Lebanon to register all Palestinian refugees.

In response to the questions raised by Committee members, the delegation stated that Lebanon’s position was to look ahead and move forward and that the amendment of rules should aim at progressing and not regressing. He spelled out the attempts to abolish confessionalism, to defend the human rights on all those living in Lebanon, and to entice non-Lebanese to come to Lebanon to live and work.

The delegation said that communities did not have a territorial basis in Lebanon and that administrative and electoral roles did not correspond to communities. Parliamentary seats were distributed in accordance with each confession which demonstrated that there was cohabitation in Lebanon. All ethnicities were represented in political life. Currently, decisions were made to nominate the best candidate in all recruitment exercises for civil service without taking into account their background. Both Lebanese and non-Lebanese were equal before the law.

Regarding the confiscation of passports of domestic employees, the delegation said that a passport was considered to be private property. However, in the majority of cases, domestic employees voluntarily gave their passports to their employers. In cases of penal procedures, the passports were withheld by authorities and in all cases returned within 24 to 48 hours. The employer of domestic employees had to pay the return plane tickets, provide housing, food and clothing.

Answering the question on jus sanguinis, the delegation said Lebanon was among several countries which had adopted this system and saw no need to amend this law at present to adopt another form of nationality acquisition. Civil marriages which were carried out abroad were recognized and recorded in Lebanon. In the 1960s, there were trial attempts at passing laws on civil marriage but the communities opted otherwise. With regard to confessionalism, it protected all groups at the same time.

On the question of Palestinian refugees, the delegation said the question was a political one which was the responsibility of the international community as a whole. Lebanon had made great sacrifices since 1948 to accommodate Palestinian refugees and to support the right of Palestinians to have their State and to support their unconditional return to that State. This policy was translated into the Lebanese Constitution when it was amended in 1990. Referring to the upcoming international conference in June 2004 in Geneva which will have the main objective of providing security for Palestinian refugees, the delegation said that humanitarian problems should not be mixed with political problems. Lebanon did not discriminate in any way against Palestinians. The Convention was not applicable to the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanon, especially with concern to the question of granting citizenship.

In the case of incitement to racial discrimination, the Lebanese Penal Code stated that these acts were punishable as misdemeanours but there was currently a draft law before the parliamentary commission which would increase the charges of these acts to those of a criminal offence.

Concerning reciprocity, the delegation said that the principle of reciprocity was applied in Lebanon and that the rights granted to foreign nationals must be the same as those applied to non-nationals as well as to those who were stateless, however Palestinians had a special status. On migrant workers, Lebanon had taken steps to improve cooperation between the countries of origin of non-nationals working in the country. A bilateral agreement had recently been signed with Sri Lanka and another was currently being negotiated with the Philippines.

In response to the delegation’s answers, Committee Experts once again applauded Lebanon for the measures it had taken especially given the long civil conflict it had endured. They emphasized the need to narrow the distinction between citizens and non-citizens and in particular to ease the suffering of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. An Expert asked what Lebanon could do in order to integrate the Convention to apply to the rights of the Palestinian refugees and to allow for them to return home or remain in Lebanon as non-nationals if they so desired.

Preliminary Remarks

TANG CHENGYUAN, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the reports of Lebanon, thanked the delegation for the explanations. After the dialogue, the Committee now had a clearer understanding of the situation in Lebanon. The Palestinian question was a political one and deserved the concern of the international community which should find a solution to the root cause of this problem so that the rights of the Palestinians can be restored. The full responsibility for this problem should not rest solely with the Lebanese Government. The reason why the Committee was addressing the situation of the Palestinian refugees was because their case was one of a humanitarian and human rights nature which could not be overlooked.

Turning to confessionalism, Mr. Tang said the solution to this matter was a gradual process, adding that the Committee was very concerned about the possible negative effects of the enjoyment of rights by minority groups because of confessionalism.


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