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.