Archive | March, 2010

Lebanese protest in front of Parliament for civil marriages

19 Mar

Activists dressed in wedding outfits react as they take part in "Chaml" (union) campaign that is trying to legalize civil marriage in Lebanon during a gathering in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, March 18, 2010. In the Middle East, civil marriage doesn't exist and no religious authority will perform an interfaith wedding. But Lebanon recognizes civil marriages as long as they're performed abroad, and the closest venue abroad is Cyprus, 150 miles from Lebanon. The banners in Arabic read:"A wedding with a stay of execution." (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Demonstration organized to mark day of ‘freedom of choice’
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, March 19, 2010

BEIRUT: Bassam Jalgha, 23, has decided he doesn’t want a religious marriage. There’s only one problem: civil marriages are not performed in Lebanon.

Jalgha was one of around 200 people who marched on the Lebanese Parliament Thursday to demand politicians amend the law to allow people the option of marrying outside religious establishments.

The demonstration was organized by the Non-Violent Non-Sectarian Youth Lebanese Citizens association (CHAML) to mark the day of “freedom of choice,” which the Lebanese National Campaign for Personal Status designated years ago as March 18.

Wearing wedding dresses and tuxedos, the protesters marched across Downtown Beirut to outside Parliament, ululating and chanting their demands. “It makes no sense [not to have the option of civil marriage], especially if they want us to live together and survive together as one population inside one country,” Jalgha said. “They should allow people from different religions who love each other to get married in their own country.”

The Lebanese state recognizes 18 different religious groups, which preside over personal status matters like marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance. Marriages across the sectarian divide are allowed, provided one of the partners converts to the other’s religion, and are registered in the husband’s jurisdiction of birth.

Although Lebanese cannot have a civil marriage at home, the Lebanese state will recognize civil ceremonies performed abroad, so long as the marriage is registered at the Lebanese Embassy or consulate in the country where it took place.

In nearby pluralistic countries like Israel, Jordan and Syria, civil marriages are also not an option. As a result, numerous travel agencies in the region advertise one or two-day civil marriage packages in countries like Cyprus or Turkey.

But these trips are prohibitively expensive for many of those wanting a civil union. In addition, “this forces couples to get married alone, without their friends or families,” said Diana Assaf, a volunteer with CHAML. She said it made little sense for Lebanon not to allow civil marriages when they recognized those performed abroad. “We’re just asking for the simple right [for the Lebanese people] to get married in their country.”

 

The protest also fell on the anniversary of a bill by former Lebanese President Elias Hrawi in 1998, which almost succeeded in introducing the option of civil marriage. The bill gained approval from Cabinet members but was vetoed by the late former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He possessed both Saudi and Lebanese passports, and was said to have heeded the rulings of Saudi clerics who said granting civil marriage rights contravened Islamic Sharia law.

A number of Lebanese politicians still back civil marriages, though. MP Ghassan Mokheiber, who works closely with civil society, was outside Parliament to lend his support to the protesters. He told The Daily Star civil marriage should be one of the “basic rights” enjoyed by the Lebanese people. “There has been a lot of talk about de-confessionalizing Lebanon,” he said. “This could be one of the tools to bringing people closer together.”

 He noted that protesters were not looking to abolish religious marriages or confessional laws. “It is an optional law that would not deny faith nor good morals nor religious weddings. It is simply an alternative that now the Lebanese have to find in other countries,” he said. “It’s time that we recognize our own marriages in Lebanon.”

Although the option of civil marriage doesn’t seem like it will be granted anytime soon, the movement for greater civil freedoms is picking up momentum.

In February 2009, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud issued a circular granting Lebanese citizens the right to remove their religion from their Civil Registry Records. Baroud said the initiative was in line with the Lebanese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Lebanon helped author, and several other international human-rights treaties signed by Beirut.

An online petition and Facebook group demanding civil marriage are also gaining more and more supporters. In addition, CHAML will soon present a draft law to parliamentarians granting the option of civil marriages, Assaf said.

But until that option comes to pass in Lebanon, those wishing to marry outside of a religious institution will still be forced to travel abroad to do so.

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US rights report: corruption still plagues Lebanon

14 Mar

Penalties present, but seldomly enforced
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Saturday, March 13, 2010

BEIRUT: The Lebanese government is riddled with corruption and while human-rights abuses are not as flagrant as elsewhere in the Arab world, they continue largely unabated, according to the US State Department.

The Lebanon section of the 2009 report on human-rights practices, which was released late Thursday, also noted substandard detention facilities, arbitrary detention, lack of rights for women, refugees and other minorities, privacy infringements and restrictions on freedoms of speech and press as major issues hindering the enjoyment of human rights in the country.

“The government provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the penalties were seldom enforced, and government corruption was a serious problem,” the report said, noting a lack of transparency and public access to government documents or information about the financial assets of public officials. It reiterated reports by local organizations Transparency Lebanon and the Lebanese Transparency Association, which noted systematic clientelism, judicial failures, electoral fraud, and bribery among politicians.

The Lebanese government was unable to exercise total control over its affairs because of impunity and armed presence of Hizbullah, the report said. “It remained difficult to distinguish politically motivated crimes … from simply criminal acts or disputes, as the government did not exercise control over all its territory and investigations of suspicious killings rarely led to prosecutions,” the report added.

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee made little progress over the course of the year, mainly because of the absence of a government for five months. “At year’s end there was no evidence that the committee had begun implementing the existing national action plan calling for legal changes to guide ministries on protecting specific human rights.”

The Lebanese people suffered “limitations” on their right to change their government peacefully, the report said, noting a continuation of politically motivated killings and disappearance of a Lebanese citizen, Joseph Sader, which may also have been politically driven.

The whereabouts of Sader, an MEA official, have remained unknown for over a year.

Conditions in prison and detention centers remained below minimum international standards, with facilities packed to almost twice their capacity. The report said three cases of prisoner-on-prisoner rape occurred in Roumieh prison during the year and quoted an unidentified non-governmental organization as saying 27 prisoners had died “primarily due to authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care.” Arbitrary imprisonment and illegal detention of refugees was also pervasive, with charges against officials responsible for prolonged arrest rarely filed.

 

There was evidence that government officials tortured detainees and forced them to sign forged confessions. The Lebanese government continued to deny the use of torture, though authorities did acknowledge “violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations … where suspects were interrogated without an attorney.” The report added that while security agencies and the Lebanese police force are subject to laws prohibiting bribery and extortion, enforcement of those laws were weak.

Flouting national laws, Lebanese authorities “frequently interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government,” the report said, noting phone tapping and other monitoring by the security services.

Freedom of speech and of the press also came under fire, with the report noting political violence and intimidations lead journalists to practice self-censorship. Most media outlets have political affiliations, sometimes hindering their “ability to operate freely in areas dominated by other political groups and affected the objectivity of their reporting.” A number of journalists also received threats against them and their families for their work, and officials instigated libel and other lawsuits against journalists in an effort to suppress criticism.

Lebanon continued to discriminate against women in a number of issues including personal status and citizenship, and was a transit point and destination for trafficked persons. “The government provided legal assistance to domestic violence victims who could not afford it, but in most cases police ignored complaints submitted by battered or abused women.”

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor has published country reports on human rights practices in 194 countries and territories for the last 34 years. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said the annual reports provide a fact-base for American diplomatic, economic and strategic policy-making. “These reports are an essential tool … to craft effective human-rights policy, we need good assessments of the situation on the ground in the places we want to make a difference,” she said in the report’s preface.

Honor killing in Lebanon

12 Mar

This AFP story filed on Friday March 12 describes the latest honor killing in Lebanon. It says honor crimes are rare in Lebanon but a recent report I read said around 88 had occured in a seven year period (I can’t remember where I read that so don’t quote me on that), which is 88 too many. Sadly Lebanon’s penal code grants leniency to such killers, as it does rapists, who are pardoned if they propose to their victim. The good news is that a family violence bill is in the works, which might herald a new era in how Lebanon views perpetrators of gender-based and child abuse.

BEIRUT: A Lebanese man has been arrested in northern Lebanon for killing his sister earlier this week in what authorities described as an honour killing, a security official said on Friday. “The 24-year-old victim was single and apparently had a boyfriend,” the security official told AFP. “(Her brother) admitted shooting her twice in the head to cleanse the family honour.” The woman was only identified by her initials, as was her 28-year-old brother. Her body was discovered on Tuesday on the main road of the village of Hakr al-Daheri, in the northern Akkar region. “This kind of crime is not common in Lebanon but we have a few every year,” the official said. Lebanese law stipulates extenuating circumstances for so-called honour killings, in which male relatives kill female kin they suspect of illicit behaviour with men. In 2007, Lebanon’s top Shiite Muslim cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honour killings as repulsive acts that contradict Islamic law.