Tag Archives: Lebanese

When a man beats a migrant woman (in public)

10 Mar

Lebanon has been lambasted in the international media in recent years for mistreatment of migrant domestic workers. When a man can beat and drag a woman in public without reprimand from onlookers, you feel Lebanon deserves that notoriety. On Thursday, a local television channel broadcast amateur footage showing a Lebanese man attacking an Ethiopian woman in front of the Ethiopian Embassy. According to Al-Akhbar newspaper, the man was filmed “pulling at the woman’s hair, and dragging her into his car, as she screamed and wailed.”

“The attack occurred in broad daylight, with no bystanders coming to the woman’s aid.” You can watch the incident above.

This disgraceful act comes at a time when the Lebanese parliament is purposefully sabotaging a law to protect women from violence. It only reinforces the urgent need for the enactment, enforcement and respect of laws that criminalize racism, sexism and violence. This man needs to be brought before a court of law, but something tells me it is unlikely to happen.

There are around 200,000 women, mostly from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Madagascar, who work in Lebanon as domestic helpers. While many are treated well, many women report being confined to their employers houses, having their passports confiscated or wages withheld, and can be subject to horrific emotional, physical, sexual and economic violence.

If you want to get involved in migrant rights activism in Lebanon, take a look at the Migrant Worker Task Force website, a volunteer-run initiative to tackle racism and promote integration in Lebanon. Also look at the Anti Racism Movement, which does some great work too. In the year 2012, it is quite appalling that such incidents are allowed to go unpunished.

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Lebanese Women Offered a Toothless New Law

5 Mar

Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT, Mar 5 2012 (IPS) – Nour’s husband returned to Lebanon after two years of working abroad a changed person. The man she had loved was distant, cold and uncommunicative. Then, two weeks after his homecoming, he attacked Nour while she slept, raping her with such ferocity that he caused a fissure.

“When he finished I felt something coming out of me,” she says. As she writhed on the floor in agony, her husband looked on in silence. “After an hour he took me to a doctor. The doctor is his friend and refused to examine me. He prescribed me medication for the bleeding, which took three days to stop.”

It took Nour a week to recover but the psychological pain remains. “He killed my spirit, my body and my femininity,” she says quietly.

In an effort to protect women like Nour from abusive partners, a coalition of civil society organisations has spent the last five years drafting a law criminalising mental, physical and sexual abuse. The bill was approved by the Council of Ministers in April 2010 and is expected to be passed by parliament within the coming days. However, campaigners warn that the parliamentary committee tasked with overseeing the law has made so many amendments that they have rendered it useless.

The law, as drafted by the coalition, would have appointed public prosecutors to investigate incidences of violence, established special units within the Lebanese police force to respond to family violence cases, obliged medical personnel to report cases in which they treated women bearing signs of abuse, and empowered women and their children to seek restraining orders against their abusers. For the first time in Lebanese law, it outlined the different types of abuse women face, and designated clear punishments for offenders.

But a committee of eight parliamentarians, only one of whom is a woman, have made a number of radical amendments, removing marital rape, and economic and psychological violence from the bill entirely, and introducing a new article that grants religious bodies priority over civil law to oversee protection.

Leaked committee documents also show that the clause establishing a specialised police force for domestic violence cases was deleted and the bill’s focus on women was watered down to include the elderly, men and children.

In an interview with the Daily Star newspaper in December, committee member Imad Al-Hout hinted at the changes to come by denying the existence of marital rape. “There’s nothing called rape between a husband and a wife. It’s called forcing someone violently to have intercourse,” he was reported as saying.

The amendments have left the law “empty” and its approval would represent a major defeat for women, says Maya al-Ammar of KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation, the non-governmental organisation that spearheaded efforts to draft the law. In particular, the removal of marital rape indicated a lack of understanding by the committee about the types of violence experienced by women, says Ammar.

“If they don’t see that rape is rape, then I don’t know how they can study a law related to gender-based violence seriously,” she tells IPS. The coalition has had some dialogue with the committee but its members are reportedly keen to avoid debate until the law passes. Calls to committee members made by IPS went unanswered.

Statistics are difficult to come by in Lebanon, particularly on such a highly stigmatised topic as domestic violence, but a tally of reported death tolls suggests one woman is killed on average each month by a male partner, according to KAFA. Lebanon has a population of four million.

At least one-third of women in Lebanon have experienced some form of gender-based violence, says Dr. Jinan Usta, a family medicine doctor at the American University of Beirut Hospital, and researcher on domestic violence. Considered a private family matter, domestic violence remains shrouded in secrecy, and women face considerable barriers leaving abusive relationships. Women who seek assistance from the police or courts often report being told to return home, meaning few even bother to report abuse.

The amendments made by the committee seem to be aimed at placating Lebanon’s main religious authorities, which have all vigorously opposed the law. As with other issues relating to personal status, Lebanon’s 15 religious courts currently have jurisdiction over cases of domestic violence and are keen to maintain that power.

In June 2011, the country’s top Sunni and Shia bodies rejected the bill as a Western plot to undermine the Arab family. Campaigners, however, find the charge offensive. “Violence is not an Arab tradition,” says Dr. Usta.

Zeina Zaatari, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Global Fund for Women, agrees that religion is being used to cover deep-seated patriarchal attitudes towards women.

“The domestic violence bill presents a form of legal protection for women and children residing in a particular household,” says Zaatari. “I do not see in that any contradiction with Muslim values, unless we are saying that Muslim values support violence against women; or unless we are saying that women are so simple minded and vicious that they would go and appeal to the courts just to spite their husbands. If we value women’s lives, which all faiths should, then we would support a law that protects them.”

The need for a civil law is especially critical as religious courts have demonstrated they are unwilling to assist women facing family violence, says Nadine Mouawad of the grassroots feminist collective Nasawiya, which has been active in lobbying for the adoption of the draft law.

“Across all confessions, the priority of religious courts is to advocate for reconciliation, which often means brushing over the women’s experience of violence. They have been inadequate in offering women shelter, separation rights, financial support, and other important elements of protection.” The amendment to refer cases of domestic violence back to the religious courts therefore “defeats the purpose of the new law,” she says.

Despite the bleak outlook, campaigners have vowed to keep up the pressure on the government in the coming weeks with media campaigns, protests and publicity stunts. If the amended law is approved, says Ammar, it will have “succeeded in silencing the voices of women.”

Nour, meanwhile, had this message for the parliamentary committee: “Where is the family that should be preserved? If the mother is finished, then the whole family is finished and you will simply be the one who contributed to its destruction.”

Prisons See Institutionalised Injustice

18 Jul

In April, the biggest prison riot in Lebanese history broke out in Roumieh penitentiary,  prompting relatives of inmates to protest conditions inside [EPA]By Dalila Mahdawi

When Joanna Bailey (not her real name), a British journalist formerly based in Lebanon, became the victim of a sexual assault in Beirut, she sought help at a local police station. As she was giving her statement, the police dragged her assailant into the room. The man had been beaten up, and was subjected to further violence in front of her.

“One of the officers took off his belt and began beating him with it for what felt like ten minutes.” When Bailey asked the officers to stop, “they said it was the only way he would learn,” she recalls.

“After that they made him strip down to his underwear in front of me and jog on the spot for about 30 minutes.” Bailey left feeling not only profoundly disturbed by the assault on her, but distressed at the extrajudicial punishment meted out to her attacker.

Such stories of ritual humiliation, mistreatment and beatings are familiar to many detainees in Lebanon. A lack of training and poor human rights awareness among police officers means many turn to violence to obtain confessions from suspects.

According to a report released earlier this year by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), around 60 percent of detainees experience some form of torture or mistreatment. One death as a result of torture was recorded in 2010, the report said.

Those suspected of espionage, drug dealing and religious extremism are most likely to be subjected to abuse by the police. All this takes place in a culture of impunity, says Wadih Al-Asmar, secretary- general of CLDH: “Police officers are not well trained and there is no real accountability. In the very few cases that have been investigated, the results remain confidential.”

Prison conditions are just as bleak as those at police stations, with inmates being locked away without trial for years in grossly overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. With almost no rehabilitation services available, most prisoners spend their days confined to their cells, chain-smoking, chatting and, when tempers flare, fighting.

In the last three years, 400 people arrested on security charges have been subjected to procedure violations that made their detention arbitrary, the CLDH report found.

“It’s a disaster,” says Ghassan Moukheiber, an MP who heads the Lebanese Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and who has produced a detailed report on prison reform. “The situation is dire. I qualify prisons as fitting into the following categories – bad, very bad or inhumane. The prison conditions are themselves equal to torture, cruel and degrading treatment.”

Lebanon’s 20 prisons can officially hold 3,653 inmates, but in 2010 provided an uncomfortable abode to some 5,324 prisoners, an earlier CLDH report found. Roumieh, Lebanon’s biggest men’s prison, built with a maximum capacity of 1,500 inmates, held about 3,500. According to Moukheiber, with the exception of Roumieh, none of Lebanon’s prisons were built specifically as penitentiaries.

Lebanon is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as its Optional Protocol, but has not yet fulfilled its obligation to establish a National Preventative Mechanism against torture. It is also several years overdue in submitting a report to the Convention’s Committee on the measures it is taking to implement the treaty.

In a damning 2009 report to the Lebanese government by General Ashraf Rifi, head of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), the body which overlooks prison administration, two-thirds of all prisoners were found to be awaiting sentencing. Around 250 foreign prisoners remained in prison after completing their sentences, largely due to deportation complications, Rifi said.

Most were imprisoned for lacking the necessary paperwork to remain in Lebanon and included a number of refugees and asylum seekers.

With minimal funding being allocated to penitentiaries, Moukheiber told IPS that the Lebanese state was failing to provide prisoners with the vital rehabilitation, health and educational services they needed in order to reintegrate back into society.

But despite the gloomy outlook, criminologist Omar Nashabe insists slow improvements are under way. The number of inmates at Roumieh has fallen, he says. “That’s a big step forward because it allows the prison administration to better control the prison.”

However, basic services and security remain problematic. Prisoners often have to undertake hunger strikes or other extreme measures in order to access medical care, and escape attempts are frequent.

In April, Roumieh saw one of the biggest prison riots in Lebanese history. Prisoners were able to break down doors and take control of much of the prison in a stand-off which resulted in the death of four inmates.

Although the government has allocated five million dollars to refurbish the prison, Nashabe admits the figure won’t even cover repair costs. “Some of the doors inside the prison are still without locks and there are still problems with electricity and water.”

Nevertheless, Nashabe says that the riot prompted the Lebanese judicial authorities to be more flexible with incarceration as a pre-trial measure and punishment. A five-year plan to transfer management of the prisons from the ISF to a specialised body within the Justice Ministry is also under way, he says.

But according to Moukheiber, “it is not a panacea just to switch prison administration from one ministry to another. The appropriate solution is much more complex,” involving a string of measures, including building new facilities, improving access to healthcare, rehabilitation services and legal aid, and specialised training of prison staff and judges.

For many prisoners, such improvements will come too late. Twenty-seven year-old Marwan (not his real name) has been in prison for two years awaiting sentencing for drug dealing. “It’s unacceptable that I haven’t been sentenced yet,” he told IPS via a smart phone he’d managed to smuggle behind bars.

The police “haven’t got any evidence against me, only testimonies from a few people.” Marwan, who hasn’t yet been able to meet with a lawyer, says he expects to be incarcerated “at least another three years.” (END)

Women worked to death in Lebanon

11 Nov

Dalila Mahdawi guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 November 2009 21.00 GMT
They mop floors, take out the rubbish, walk the dog, buy groceries and care for the children, the elderly or disabled. Many a well-to-do and lower middle class Lebanese family relies on migrant domestic workers to take care of their household, but when it comes to providing for these women, not all return the favour.

Migrant domestic workers – women who work as live-in or freelance housekeepers, cooks, and nannies – form a vital presence in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, where women’s increased participation in the workforce has not been accompanied by state-backed social or childcare services.

There are thought to be about 200,000 women, mostly from the Philippines, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka, in Lebanon alone. But although they are becoming an intrinsic part of the country’s social fabric, their contribution is often overlooked. While many Lebanese people are careful to ensure their housekeepers are well treated, a significant number abuse them. In extreme cases, migrant domestic workers are killed or kill themselves.

The spate of suicides has become so bad in recent weeks it prompted Lebanese blogger Wissam to launch the grimly named Ethiopian Suicides blog. The website is dedicated to monitoring media reports on the deaths of foreign migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. “I have a dream,” Wissam says. “That migrant domestic workers will be treated humanely in Lebanon and will stop trying to commit or commit[ting] suicide.”

In the last three weeks alone, Wissam notes, four Ethiopian women have died. Lebanese police say the deaths of Kassaye Atsegenet, 24, Saneet Mariam, 30, Matente Kebede Zeditu, 26, Tezeta Yalmiya, 26 were probably suicides. But as human rights activists here will testify, the truth about what happened to them may never be known because police usually only take into account the employer’s testimony. Migrants who survive abuse or suicide attempts are not usually provided with a translator, meaning their version of events often does not get registered with officials.

Sadly, violations against such workers occur throughout the region and in some cases the women end up in slave-like conditions.

Reflecting the concern of sender countries for the wellbeing of their citizens, Ethiopia and the Philippines have placed bans on working in Lebanon and Jordan, but this has not stemmed the flow of illegal migrants smuggled in through third countries. Without the necessary work papers and embassy support, migrant women become even more vulnerable to human rights abuses.

One reason the women are driven to the edge is that, in Lebanon at least, they are not given protection under the country’s labour law. Such exclusion means that those who withhold salaries, confiscate passports, confine their employees to the house or otherwise abuse them, can literally get away with murder. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that five months after parliamentary elections, a Lebanese government is only now being formed.

The campaign to grant migrant domestic workers greater rights in the region has been led by Human Rights Watch. This summer, it contacted Lebanese beach resorts and found that 17 out of 27 private facilities practised some form of discrimination against such women by prohibiting them from swimming in the pool or even the Mediterranean sea.

A study conducted by the organisation last year found that more than one migrant domestic worker was dying in Lebanon each week – mostly from suspected suicide or by falling off a balcony while trying to escape abusive employers. The numbers sent ripples throughout the rights community and resulted in far more sustained local media coverage on the issue of domestic migrant workers. Judging by Wissam’s recent statistics, however, this does not appear to have persuaded the authorities to take sufficient measures to protect their rights.

The embassies of countries that supply migrant workers have a duty to protect their citizens. They could start by offering amnesty and assistance to all illegal workers, increasing their legal protection capabilities and properly informing women at home of their rights and responsibilities while working abroad. Many countries, such as Nepal or Madagascar, which are sending women to the Middle East in increasing numbers, would do well to increase their diplomatic representation from consular level to embassies.

Many migrant workers come to the Middle East seeking a better life for the families they left behind. The Lebanese themselves have a long history of migration and hardship, and should know first-hand the difficulties of living and working in a foreign country. Just as many Lebanese abroad work hard with the hopes of eventually returning home, the Lebanese should ensure that these women get to go back to their countries – alive and well, not in body bags.

NOTE: Since this article was published, the death toll of migrant workers women has risen to eight, according to Human Rights Watch.