Lebanon

 

  • 5 countries on civic space watchlist presented to UN Human Rights Council

    Statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Watch us deliver our statement below:

     

    Dear Madame President,

    Research findings by the CIVICUS Monitor show a serious and rapid decline in respect for civic freedoms in IndiaLebanonIraq, Nicaragua, and Guinea(countries on current civic space watchlist)

    In India, protests against a discriminatory citizenship law have been met with excessive force and deadly violence by the authorities, with at least 50 killed, and hundreds injured. There has been no independent and impartial investigation into the police violence. Hundreds have also been detained on spurious charges, including human rights defenders.

    In Lebanon, peaceful protests have been subjected to severe and unwarranted violence by the authorities. About a thousand protestors have been arrested or detained while many have experienced torture or ill-treatment while in detention.

    In Iraq, activists and journalists have been abducted, arbitrarily arrested and murdered in order to prevent them from participating in or covering demonstrations that broke out in October 2019.  Since the outset of the protests, hundreds of protestors have been killed at the hands of security forces.

    In Nicaragua, we are seriously concerned by the lack of political will to stop the repression of fundamental civic freedoms and to address the current human rights crisis. We call on this council to support a strong resolution on Nicaragua as the situation continues to worsen.

    In Guinea, mass protests which begun in October 2019 against government plans to replace the Constitution, have been met with excessive force. The killing of protesters and bystanders has been met with almost complete impunity. 

    Such restrictions on civic space are often a precursor for further human rights abuses and we call on the members and observers of this Council to act now to prevent further deterioration.

    Civic space ratings by CIVICUS Monitor
    Open Narrowed Obstructed  Repressed Closed

     


    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

     

  • 5 países en la lista de vigilancia del espacio cívico presentada al Consejo de Derechos Humanos de la ONU

    Declaración en el 43º período de sesiones del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas


    Los resultados de la investigación del CIVICUS Monitor muestran un serio y rápido declive en el respeto de las libertades cívicas en la India, Líbano, Irak, Nicaragua y Guinea (países que figuran en la actual lista de vigilancia del espacio cívico)

    En la India, las protestas contra una ley discriminatoria en materia de ciudadanía han sido reprimidas por las autoridades con una fuerza excesiva y una violencia mortal, con al menos 50 muertos y cientos de heridos. No se ha realizado ninguna investigación independiente e imparcial sobre la violencia policial. También se ha detenido a centenares de personas con acusaciones falsas, incluidos defensores de los derechos humanos.

    En el Líbano, las protestas pacíficas han sido objeto de una violencia grave e injustificada por parte de las autoridades. Alrededor de un millar de manifestantes han sido arrestados o detenidos, mientras que muchos han sufrido torturas o malos tratos durante su detención.

    En Irak, activistas y periodistas han sido secuestrados, detenidos arbitrariamente y asesinados para impedir que participen en las manifestaciones que se iniciaron en octubre de 2019.  Desde el comienzo de las protestas, cientos de manifestantes han sido asesinados a manos de las fuerzas de seguridad.

    En Nicaragua, nos preocupa seriamente la falta de voluntad política para poner fin a la represión de las libertades cívicas fundamentales y para hacer frente a la actual crisis de derechos humanos. Hacemos un llamamiento a este Consejo para que apoye una resolución firme sobre Nicaragua, ya que la situación sigue empeorando.

    En Guinea, las protestas masivas que comenzaron en octubre de 2019 contra los planes del gobierno de reemplazar la Constitución, han sido enfrentadas con excesiva fuerza. El asesinato de manifestantes y transeúntes ha sido recibido con casi total impunidad. 

    Esas restricciones del espacio cívico suelen ser un precursor de nuevos abusos de los derechos humanos y pedimos a los miembros y observadores de este Consejo que actúen ahora para evitar un mayor deterioro.

    Calificaciones del espacio cívico por CIVICUS Monitor
    Abierto     Estrecho Obstruido Represivo Cerrado

     

    Consulte nuestras prioridades de abogacía y programa de actividades en la 43ª sesión del Consejo de Derechos Humanos de las Naciones Unidas

     

  • 5 pays sur la liste de surveillance de l'espace civique présentés au Conseil des droits de l'homme

    Déclaration à la 43ème session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies

    Les résultats des recherches menées par le CIVICUS Monitor montrent un déclin grave et rapide du respect des libertés civiques en Inde, au Liban, en Irak, au Nicaragua et en Guinée (pays figurant sur la liste actuelle de surveillance de l'espace civique)

    En Inde, les protestations contre une loi discriminatoire sur la citoyenneté ont été accueillies avec une force excessive et une violence mortelle par les autorités, faisant au moins 50 morts et des centaines de blessés. Aucune enquête indépendante et impartiale n'a été menée sur les violences policières. Des centaines de personnes ont également été détenues sur la base d'accusations fallacieuses, notamment des défenseurs des droits humains.

    Au Liban, les manifestations pacifiques ont été soumises à des violences graves et injustifiées de la part des autorités. Un millier de manifestants ont été arrêtés ou détenus, et beaucoup ont subi des tortures ou des mauvais traitements pendant leur détention.

    En Irak, des militants et des journalistes ont été enlevés, arrêtés arbitrairement et assassinés afin de les empêcher de participer ou de couvrir les manifestations qui ont éclaté en octobre 2019.  Depuis le début des manifestations, des centaines de manifestants ont été tués par les forces de sécurité.

    Au Nicaragua, nous sommes sérieusement préoccupés par le manque de volonté politique de mettre fin à la répression des libertés civiques fondamentales et de faire face à la crise actuelle des droits humains. Nous appelons ce Conseil à soutenir une résolution forte sur le Nicaragua alors que la situation continue de s'aggraver.

    En Guinée, les protestations de masse qui ont commencé en octobre 2019 contre les projets du gouvernement de remplacer la Constitution ont été accueillies avec une force excessive. Les meurtres de manifestants et de passants ont été commis dans une impunité quasi totale. 

    De telles restrictions de l'espace civique sont souvent le prélude à de nouvelles violations des droits humains et nous appelons les membres et les observateurs de ce Conseil à agir maintenant pour empêcher toute nouvelle détérioration.

    Les évaluations de l'espace civique par le CIVICUS Monitor
    Ouvert Rétréci Obstrué  Reprimé Fermé

     

    Voir nos priorités de plaidoyer et notre programme d'activités lors de la 43e session du Conseil des droits de l'homme des Nations unies

     

  • Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

    Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish

    Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.

     

  • Country recommendations for UN Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    All UN member states have their human rights records reviewed every 4.5 years.  CIVICUS  and partners make UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Australia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Myanmar, Nepal, Oman, and Rwanda

    CIVICUS and its partners have made joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 7 countries in advance of the 37th UPR session (January 2021). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.

    AustraliaThis submission raises alarm over the increasing criminalisation of climate and environmental movements and defenders, including Indigenous peoples, scientists, student strikers and environmental organisations, in the wake of Australia’s recent bushfires. It further discusses the unwarranted restrictions on media freedoms due, in large part, to an increase in police raids on independent media outlets. Moreover, its expresses concern over recent attempts to silence whistle-blowers who reveal government wrongdoing under the Intelligence Services Act.

    Lebanon In its submission CIVICUS, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Media Support (IMS), Social Media Exchange (SMEX) examine how the  government has persistently failed to address the brutal and violent dispersal of peaceful protests, the arrest and prosecution of journalists and protesters and restrictions on the activities of CSOs advocating for women’s and LGBTQI+ rights. It also discusses legal and extra-legal restrictions on the freedom of association and, in particular, the systematic targeting of associations and activities by the LGBTQI+ community. Moreover, it assesses the continued deterioration of the freedom of expression, as highlighted by the increase in judicial proceedings against media outlets critical of the authorities, threats to digital rights, raids and attacks by security forces and sometimes by members of the public on media outlets.

    Mauritania (FR) CIVICUS and Réseau Ouest-Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains/ West African Human Rights Defenders Network (ROADDH / WAHRDN) demonstrates that since its last review, the Government of Mauritania has not implemented any of the recommendations relating to civic space. Instead, civic space in Mauritania remains repressed, and civil society actors, especially those working on anti-slavery campaigns and seeking to end racial and ethnic discrimination are frequently targeted and intimidated by the state. Civil society actors face legal and practical barriers to exercising their rights to association and peacefully assembly, which is hampered by the 1964 Law on Associations and Law No. 73-008 on Public Assemblies.

    Myanmar The submission by CIVICUS, Free Expression Myanmar and Asia Democracy Network highlights the use of an array of unwarrantedly restrictive laws to arrest and prosecute human rights defenders, activists, journalists and government critics for the peaceful exercise of their freedoms of association and expression. It also documents the restrictions on peaceful protests in law and practice, the arbitrary arrest and prosecution of protesters and the use of excessive force and firearms to disperse protests against government policies and land disputes with businesses.

    NepalCIVICUS and Freedom Forum examine howrepressive laws, including amendments made to Nepal’s criminal code, have been used to limit the work of independent CSOs and suppress the freedom of expression. The submission further discusses how the ongoing attacks against journalists and the suppression of peaceful assembly continues to undermine civil space in the country. An evaluation of a range of legal sources and human rights documentation addressed in this submission demonstrate that the Government of Nepal has not implemented any of the recommendations relating to civic space during its previous UPR examination.

    OmanThe Omani Association for Human Rights, Gulf Centre for Human Rights and CIVICUS highlight the closure of civic space in Oman and the use of restrictive legislation to target human rights defenders, journalists and writers and civil society organisations.  We outline concerns over the forced closure of human rights organisations, the shutting down of independent newspapers and the banning of books and other publications.  Human rights defenders and journalists are often subjected to arbitrary arrests and judicial persecution for their reporting and human rights activities. Due to these restrictions, several human rights defenders and their families have fled into exile.  Freedom of peaceful assembly is also severely restricted as provisions in the Penal Code are used to pre-empt and prevent protests and stop those that actually take place. 

    RwandaThe submission byCIVICUS and DefendDefenders (EHAHRDP) outlines serious concerns related to the unabated repression of the work of human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists. The submission explores how restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, expression and access to information have been codified and willfully misapplied under Law No. 68/2018  (on assembly), Law N0 04/12 (on association and activities of CSOs), and the Law on Prevention and Punishment of Cybercrimes (expression and access to information). The Submission makes a number of action-oriented recommendations in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Rwandan Constitution, the ICCPR, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and Human Rights Council resolutions 22/6, 27/5 and 27/31. 

    See all of our UPR submissions here.


    Country civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor: 

    AustraliaLebanon, MauritaniaMyanmar, NepalOman, Rwanda

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED

     

     

  • Harassment goes virtual: Women activists and journalists speak out


    Harassment goes virtual series

     

    Women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment. In this series, global civil society alliance CIVICUS highlights the gendered nature of virtual harassment through the stories of women working to defend our democratic freedoms. These testimonies are originally published onGlobal Voices through a partnership between CIVICUS and Global Voices.

     

    Inday Espina VaronaFor this Filipina journalist, every day is a battle with fear

    There has been a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. Threats and attacks against journalists, as well as the deployment of armies of trolls and online bots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to self-censorship—this has had a chilling effect within the media industry and among the wider public. In this first part of the series, Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona tells her story.

     
    Evgenija CarlCalled a prostitute by the prime minister, a Slovenian journalist tells her story (Ler em portugues)

    Evgenija Carl is an investigative journalist from Slovenia. After she produced a television report about the opposition SDS party in 2016, a leading politician at the time, Janez Janša, called her a “prostitute” on Twitter. When Janša later became Slovenian prime minister, the online abuse intensified. Read Evgenija Carl's story here.

     

     

    Maya El AmmarOnline rape threats connect Lebanese activist to ‘thousands of other women’ facing abuse (باللغة العربية)

    Since October 2019, anti-government protests known as the “October Revolution” have erupted across Lebanon. Protesters have called for the removal of the government and raised concerns about corruption, poor public services, and a lack of trust in the ruling class. Protests have been met with unprecedented violence from security forces. Feminists have been at the forefront of the revolution and have stepped up to provide assistance in the aftermath of the explosion. In the third part of this series,Maya El Ammar, a Lebanese feminist writer, activist and communications professional, tells herstory and the online abuse she continues to face. 

     

    Chantal MutamurizaPersonal attacks follow Burundi human rights defender into exile in Uganda (Lire en français)

    Under the regime of President Évariste Ndayishimiye, journalists and rights defenders continue to face challenges. The arrest of political activists and the recent public announcement of the sentencing of 34 exiled people—including journalists and human rights defenders—to life imprisonment illustrate the obstacles to free expression in the country. Chantal Mutamuriza, a feminist, human rights defender, and founder of the Light For All NGO, tells us her story of the continuous online harassment she faces day in and day out.

     

    Weaam YoussefIntimidation, censorship, and defamation in the virtual sphere

    In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have died since 2011. Numerous human rights violations have taken place during the Syrian crisis - arbitrary detentions, torture, assassination of journalists, and the violent repression of protests, make Syria one of the most volatile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Originally from Syria, Weaam Youssef is Programme Manager for Women Human Rights Defenders for the Gulf Region and Neighboring Countries. This is the story of Weaam.

     

    Lindsey Kukunda GV 768x786Herself a victim of cyberbullying, Lindsey Kukunda fights online violence against women in Uganda

    More than half of Ugandan women experience physical violence, while one in five is subjected to sexual violence; many also face psychological abuse, forced and early marriage, and female genital mutilation. In 2014, Uganda introduced a law against pornography that has been used to target and prosecute women, especially women whose nude photos have been shared online without their consent. Lindsey Kukunda is a feminist, writer, and human rights defender. She is also the managing director of Her Empire, a feminist organization that runs two programmes: Not Your Body and The Mentor’s Network. Lindsey tells us her story

     

     

  • Keep moving until the departure of the corrupt

    By Ziad Abdul Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

    Ziad ANND blogThe popular protests in Lebanon began after the government announced its intention to impose new taxes on citizens and in an atmosphere of tension and mounting fears of continued economic collapse. The spontaneous movement was not surprising because it was an accumulation of anger and humiliation. However, it surprised everyone with its decentralization and rapid spread to all areas in Lebanon and abroad. The diversity of the parties involved in it was also surprising as it targeted all parties involved in governance without exception. The number of participants exceeded hundreds of thousands and in spite of this diversity, the unity has been maintained: the unity of slogans and positions, and unity reflected raising one single flag, the Lebanese flag alone.

    In Lebanon, we are witnessing an economic crisis but political in nature as well. Indeed, the chants of the protesters show us that economic and financial reform cannot be achieved without addressing the structural imbalance in the political system based on sectarian quotas.

    Since the Taif Agreement, it became clear that the cost of this quota system in Lebanon has been high for society and the state and came at the expense of citizens.

    It is no longer possible to continue it without moving to the civil state. Political and economic reform is not possible in the presence of officials involved in the quota system because they will hold onto their privileges and interests and will not easily abandon them. Nevertheless, the protection of the corrupt sectarian system and guarantees through quota system came at the expense of enhancing citizenship, achieving development and activating participation. It is behind the weakening of the public administration, which is burdened with patronage and clientelism. This system has become a burden on the national economy and society, rather than being the catalyst in supporting and providing all its rights and serving to the people.

    Therefore, the right approach in the long term can only be to abolish the system of sectarian quotas and the establishment of the civil state, the rule of law and the separation of powers, to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and rely on efficiency and enhance transparency and mechanisms of control, accountability and accountability. This requires the formation of a transitional technocrat government and the establishment of participatory mechanisms with civil society, independent experts and independent trade and professional unions. These mechanisms are supposed to reflect the movement and its space and those who abstained from participating in the elections.

    The transitional government should work on two parallel tracks. The first is moving towards the adoption of a just democratic electoral law that achieves transparency and validity of representation. The second track begins by discussing the reform steps that allow the approval of the general budget, to eliminate wasteful public spending based on quotas, patronage and clientelism, and boosting the income.

    Further austerity measures should not be proposed; but rather focus should be on a review of the social protection system and a fair distribution of the burden of reform to society. The next government should abolish monopolies, which are protected in the confessional system, especially in the basic sectors of oil, medicine, wheat and other markets and strengthen customs levies, especially on some consumer goods that are considered luxury. It should work on restructuring the public debt through negotiations with creditor banks to reduce interest rates.

    It must achieve a fair and progressive tax system that addresses evasion and reconsider exemptions. New types of taxes should be imposed aiming at achieving justice and balance in revenues such as tax on land ownership and tax on the investment of marine and river properties. Customs exemptions and customs evasion (based on the control of land, sea and air crossings) should be reexamined as well.

    Public sector should be restructured, starting with the abolition of public institutions and funds that are distributed among the sects. Restructuring of the wage mass in the public sector (in which 7% of senior officials are heads of departments and general managers account for 50% of wages in addition to additional compensation exceeding 50 times the wages in some cases) is equally important.

    Only as such, Lebanon can send positive signals to the people and to the international community and restore the lost confidence of people in Lebanon to Lebanon as a sovereign and independent state.

    To achieve all these, the street should keep on moving. The movement must coordinate to develop a new model of shared governance. A dialogue among its constituents on the requirements for continuation until the demands are fulfilled is critical. It is utmost importance that the movement should not give up, particularly with regard to any attempt to eliminate the power of mobilization. It must be aware of the traditional methods resorted by some of the forces of power who aim at wreaking havoc and abuse and create the justification for the security forces to use force. We have seen this since the second day in the streets of Beirut, where the security forces used tear gas and arrested hundreds of demonstrators in violation of the right to peaceful assembly, demonstrate and express opinion. The protection of the right to demonstrate and assembly is the responsibility of the security forces and the task entrusted to them.

    --

    This piece is an edited version of the article written by ANND Executive Director for Annahar on 19 October 2019.

     

  • LEBANON: ‘Abuses against women are the direct product of the gender imbalances of a patriarchal society’

    Ghida AnaniCIVICUS speaks about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Iraqi women and girls and civil society’s role in combatting gender inequalities in Lebanon with Ghida Anani, founder and director of ABAAD – Resource Centre for Gender Equality.

    ABAAD is a women-led civil society organisation (CSO) that strives for gender equality as a key condition for sustainable social and economic development in the Middle East and North Africa. Its work is organised around three pillars: providing direct services, building capacity and developing resources, and advocating for policy reform.

    How has COVID-19 impacted on women and girls in Lebanon?

    Even before the pandemic, women and girls in Lebanon suffered from a vicious cycle of gender-based violence (GBV) and discrimination that deprived them of the opportunity to participate meaningfully in social, economic and political life.

    Most of the abuses and discriminatory acts experienced by women and girls in Lebanon are the direct product of imbalances between women and men in the patriarchal Lebanese society, which are codified into law. Domestic violence is a longstanding problem due to deeply engrained gender social norms that permeate the entire societal system, policies and legislation. So far the government has failed to recognise and therefore address the problem and has not allocated dedicated resources to tackle GBV.

    COVID-19 lockdowns and the ensuing economic downturn did nothing but exacerbate already existing GBV risks both at home and in public spaces. Self-isolation, misuse of power, heightened tensions, financial uncertainties and the disruption of life-saving services were key factors that worsened the situation.

    During the pandemic, ABAAD noticed an increase in the severity of the violence women were subjected to at home. Some women reached out to tell us they were struggling with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. At least two women said they had received death threats from family members after showing flu-like symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection.

    How has civil society in general, and ABAAD in particular, responded to this situation?

    Since the initial stages of the outbreak, we put together a response to ensure the continuity of life-saving services. We prioritised the best interests of rights-holders by putting them at the centre of the response.

    We had to suspend some in-person activities, such as outreach, community events and awareness and training sessions. But on the positive side, our focus on maintaining life-saving services helped us develop new internal case management guidelines for crisis counselling and emergency support services by phone, along with face-to-face services for high-risk cases.

    We also provided community-based awareness sessions on COVID-19 and psychosocial support sessions via conference calls and WhatsApp groups. Our helpline continued to function 24/7, including for services provided by ABAAD’s Emergency Temporary Safe Shelters across the country and its Men Centre. Moreover, as the three safe shelters operated by ABAAD were at full capacity, we worked to create additional capacity by renting new spaces. 

    We led several campaigns, such as #LockdownNotLockup and #TheRealTest, to fight the stigma surrounding COVID-19, show solidarity with women and let them know that they were not alone. We also worked closely with relevant ministries, United Nations (UN) agencies and CSOs to advocate for enhanced-quality coordinated response at a national level. In partnership with the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, we recently launched a series of workshops about national mechanisms to report GBV and special units dedicated to supporting survivors.

    On International Women’s Day, we held digital activism activities and sessions for women and girls through ABAAD’s Women and Girls Safe Spaces. There are 23 such centres across Lebanon, providing a safe, non-stigmatising environment for women and girl survivors of GBV and their children to receive comprehensive and holistic care services.

    How is civil society working to bring women’s rights concerns into the policy agenda?

    Civil society is working hard to bring gender equality to the top of the policy agenda. As Lebanon approaches its first parliamentary election following the popular uprising of late 2019, Lebanon’s Feminist Civil Society Platform, a group of 52 feminist CSOs and activists first convened by UN Women in the aftermath of the 2020 Beirut explosion, has launched a series of demands for candidates running for parliament to commit to achieving gender equality goals.

    Our statement to future members of parliament details the laws that need to be reconsidered from a gendered perspective, including various laws to criminalise sexual violence in the Lebanese Penal Code. This is a demand that CSOs have long advocated for.

    Civic space in Lebanon is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS monitor.
    Get in touch with ABAAD through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@AbaadMENA on Twitter. 

     

  • LEBANON: ‘Change begins by handing over the mic to grassroots feminist organisations’

    In the run-up to the 25th anniversary of theBeijing Platform for Action, due in September 2020,CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the progress achieved and the challenges ahead. Focused on eliminating violence against women, ensuring access to family planning and reproductive healthcare, removing barriers to women’s participation in decision-making and providing decent jobs and equal pay for equal work, the Beijing Platform for Action was adopted at the United Nations’ (UN)Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. After 25 years, significant but unequal progress has occurred, not least as the result of incessant civil society efforts, but no country has yet achieved gender equality.

    CIVICUS and the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) speak to Hayat Mirshad, a feminist journalist and activist and head of communications and campaigning withThe Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering (RDFL), a feminist and secular civil society organisation (CSO) that advocates for women’s rights. Founded in 1976 and based on volunteerism, RDFL is one of the oldest feminist organisations in Lebanon. It advocates for the elimination of gender-based violence (GBV) and all forms of discrimination and seeks to achieve full citizenship for women. It has held many successful campaigns, including the #NotBefore18 campaign, launched in 2017, which led to the Lebanese parliament introducing a bill, currently under parliamentary consideration, to set the minimum age of marriage at 18.

    HayatMirshad

     

  • LEBANON: ‘Increased popular awareness is irreversible, it will remain despite any setbacks’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), and Zahra Bazzi, ANND ProgrammesManager, about the protests that began in Lebanon in October 2019, the changes achieved and the challenges encountered.ANND is a regional network that brings together nine national networks (encompassing 250 organisations) and 23 civil society organisations (CSOs) in 12 countries. It was established in 1997 and since 2000 has had its headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon. It promotes the role of civil society and the values of democracy, human rights and sustainable development in the region, and advocates for socio-economic reforms aimed at sustainable development and gender justice, with a rights-based approach.

    Ziad Abdel Samad Zahra Bazzi

    What triggered the protests that began in October 2019?

    The protests were motivated by the direct repercussions of the economic and monetary crisis on the Lebanese population, but had deep roots in a structurally flawed economic system and wicked political practices and corruption embraced by successive governments for decades. The few months before the eruption of the revolution saw a looming economic crisis with an increase in government debt and questionable monetary and financial engineering coupled with a decrease in GDP growth, as well as a rise in unemployment, reaching approximately 16 per cent among the general population, and more than 45 per cent among young people, along with growing poverty and increases in the prices of essential commodities. One week before the protests, direct signs of a financial crisis had started to show, including strikes at petrol stations and the inability of the government to access new credit to import wheat and other basic goods, in addition to the eruption of roughly 100 nationwide wildfires and forest fires that destroyed massive green areas and some houses.

    Following the late adoption of the 2019 budget in July, the negotiations over the 2020 budget were being finalised in October with a clear aim of increasing state revenue at any cost and reducing the enormous deficit of 11 per cent to escape the crisis. The cabinet meeting held on 17 October suggested a new set of austerity measures, including additional indirect taxation, without envisioning the anger of the Lebanese people and the massive protests that would spread through the country that same day.

    Protesters have shared a clear vision with clear demands of the political and economic systems they want to achieve: the resignation of the government – which happened on 29 October 2019; the formation of a new government comprising people independent from the ruling parties – indeed a new government was formed on 22 January 2020, although it does it not conform to the key demands of the revolution; and the holding of democratic parliamentary elections based on a new democratic electoral law. In addition, there were demands to pass laws on the independence of the judiciary, take action to recover assets and other socio-economic demands.

    How did the government react to the protests?

    Since the first days of the uprisings, political parties and various elements of the regime felt threatened by the imminent change protesters were calling for, which would jeopardise the power they have held for decades. They reacted to this by using excessive force, teargas, rubber bullets, arbitrary detention and arrests, especially after December 2019.

    Since the beginning of the protests, several human rights violations were committed against protesters. On 23 November, five young people – including two minors – were arrested and detained by the security forces for taking down a banner belonging to a political party. On the same day, supporters of the Amal and Hezbollah movements violently clashed with peaceful protesters in Beirut and other regions to denounce the closure of roads. Violence increased, a fact that was firmly condemned by United Nations’ experts and special rapporteurs, who called on the Lebanese government to respect the right to the freedom of expression and protect protesters.

    The postponement of parliamentary consultations from 9 to 16 December, and then again to 19 December, was accompanied by increasing violence and clashes among protesters, supporters of political leaders and the security forces and army. The most violent clashes were recorded between 10 and 16 December: on 10 December, protesters toured in their cars outside the houses of the previous ministers of public works and transportation, denouncing the poor infrastructure that had caused enormous floods on main roads and highways, locking citizens for hours in their cars. Protesters were attacked ferociously by men in uniforms of the Internal Security Forces, but who were affiliated with some political parties. Cars were vandalised, and protesters and journalists were dragged out and beaten indiscriminately.

    On the nights of 14 and 15 December, security forces clashed with supporters of political parties who provoked and attacked them in different ways. Security forces also arbitrarily attacked protesters gathered in Beirut, and fired teargas and rubber bullets at them, in retaliation against the acts of some. These two days of violence ended with the arrest of 23 people, some of whom showed signs of torture after their release. More than 76 protesters reported experiencing some form of attack, either by security officials or as a result of the rubber bullets fired against them. More severely, a few reported being dragged inside the parliament building and beaten by the security forces inside. A few reported the theft of money, legal documentation, or phones.

    Violence continued until the night of 16 December, with supporters of political parties attacking the people gathered in squares in Beirut and in the south, and burning down tents and cars. This came in response to a video, probably intentionally spread on social media, of a young man from Tripoli cursing the Shia faith.

    Clashes between protesters and security forces and riot police were especially intense during the attacks protesters made against banks, and during protests and attempts to remove the massive walls and blocks unlawfully put in front of parliament, and more recently in front of the Government Palace.

    Following the arbitrary arrest of protesters, on 15 January 2020 hundreds gathered outside the detention facility to call for their release, and were subjected to excessive force by the riot police, including the indiscriminate firing of teargas. Journalists and TV reporters were directly attacked by riot police. Footage was leaked showing the security forces beating detainees while transporting them to a detention facility. Some released detainees shared stories of torture and abuse inside detention facilities.

    Recent statistics released by the Lawyers’ Committee to Defend Protesters in Lebanon show that between 17 October 2019 and 31 January 2020, around 906 protesters were arrested and detained, including 49 minors and 17 women. Roughly 546 protesters were subjected to violence at the protests or in detention facilities.

    When and how did the protests become a ‘revolution’?

    The protests are widespread across the country. They are decentralised and remain non-sectarian. As Lebanese people overcame their religious and political divergences and joined forces in an attempt to achieve real change, they made the biggest post-war civil movement in Lebanon. This change had been long-awaited, particularly by civil society, which has tried to promote partnerships and engage in policy-making at various levels for years, despite the lack of serious and effective channels for doing so. Although the term ‘revolution’ has been contested by many, protesters and activists, among others, have insisted on calling the process a revolution, particularly after the increased violence and the death of two martyrs, Hussein Al-Attar and Alaa Abou Fakher.

    Although key demands have not changed since the beginning of the protests, more demands were added as the process evolved, especially relating to the socio-economic and financial situation. More importantly, demands started off and remained socio-economic, but were always directly linked to political change.

    What role have CSOs played during the process?

    CSOs have played an important role in the revolution, which has benefited from their accumulated knowledge, communication skills and organisational capacities. Most of those organisations participated in the protests since day one, but their role went beyond protesting. CSOs are leading in coordinating the protests and organising daily discussions at various squares in Beirut and other regions. These meetings address politics, law, socio-economic policies and human rights. They address people’s concerns and ensure the availability of solutions and alternatives. Participation in discussions has steadily increased and has involved a variety of sectors of society, including young people, women, the private sector, academics, and students. However, protest camps have faced challenges following the destruction and burning of their tents in Beirut and across other areas.

    It seems that women and young people are playing increasingly prominent roles in protest movements worldwide. Has this been the case in Lebanon?

    While women in Lebanon have been at the forefront of every important political moment in our country, they have been particularly active during the revolution. Slogans and demands related to women’s rights have been very clear and evident, including the right to pass their citizenship to their families, a civil personal status law and protection from violence, Women have organised in groups, or participated individually, to form human shields at the forefront of protests to prevent violence, lead the marches and host discussions on women’s issues.

    Feminist and women’s marches were held outside Beirut, in north and south Lebanon particularly. These were bold actions that were not very common prior to the revolution. Feminists were also able to engage critically with the slogans of the revolution and to place their discourse on the table. They were able to draw attention to many patriarchal connotations in slogans, even in the national anthem. In addition to being active alongside men, and sometimes alone, closing roads and occupying squares and public facilities, women cooked meals and offered them to protesters and sitters to support them, and initiated cleaning and recycling campaigns on a regular basis. More importantly, on many occasions, they formed a shield on the front rows between protesters and security forces to minimise the clashes.

    The revolution also witnessed very active participation by young people and youth groups. These formed the backbone of the protests, as for years young people have been eager to take part in decision-making and political life. In Lebanon, people below the age of 21 are not eligible to vote in parliamentary and municipal elections, and yet they found a space in this revolution to participate and make their voices heard. As such, young voices and concerns were loud during the protests. Young people were particularly concerned with unemployment, immigration, and the brain drain and suggested bold demands, including calling for the downfall of the regime and all its political leaders without exception and the establishment of a secular system promoting social justice and gender equality.

    The revolution has been an opportunity to revive the student movement in Lebanon. Despite all the efforts made prior to the revolution to form a nationwide student movement, in the absence of a national student union the student movement was fragmented and weak. However, after 17 October, student clubs in private universities such as the American University of Beirut, Notre-Dame University and Université Saint-Joseph participated heavily in the protests in and off-campus, forming marches from universities to the main protest squares, and even setting up their own tents in downtown Beirut. Other private universities such as the Lebanese American University and the Lebanese International University held protests on and around campus. The Lebanese University (LU), Lebanon’s national university, saw the biggest student protests. The LU Student Coalition was particularly active in the revolution, from setting up a tent for protesters in Riad Al-Solh square, in downtown Beirut, to hosting various discussions, joining efforts with other student clubs and leftist groups.

    Younger school students also had a role in the revolution. Along with university student groups, they took a big part in civil disobedience actions and general strikes. Students closed their schools and universities and protested in front of the Ministry of Education and other public administration offices for many days. As 6 November marked Students’ Day, students all across Lebanon were revolting for a better future. A banner raised by one of the students says it all: “On this day I won’t be learning history, I will be writing it.”

    What have protests achieved so far, and what remains to be done?

    Within 100 days, the revolution has had an impact on the authorities and also at a popular level.

    First, it overthrew the so-called presidential settlement – an agreement among regional and internal forces and other actors – that led Michel Aoun to become president and produced a parliament based on an unconstitutional electoral law. This led to the rise of a new political majority and the formation of a coalition government including seven major political parties. This came at a high price, including the conciliation of regional and local powers, frequent disruption of the work of parliament and government, and very intense pressures especially on the political and security levels.

    Second, it overthrew the government, that is, the executive power. This was the settlement’s weakest component, as the prime minister was the weakest among power holders such as Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and the Free Patriotic Movement.

    Third, the revolution interrupted two parliamentary sessions and blocked the adoption of equivocal draft laws listed on the agenda. Mobilised citizens had never been able to cancel a parliamentary session before.

    Fourth, it caused disruption within the ruling coalition and among the authorities, as seen in the resignation of the government and the confusion that prevailed in the process of forming a new government, especially when two candidates for the role of prime minister had to be let go for failing to meet the minimum requirements demanded by the revolution, along with other reasons. During this lengthy process, acute differences and contradictions were revealed between allied parties, despite the fact that they belonged to the same block.

    Above all, the revolution has increased popular awareness, which has been reflected in thousands of initiatives and discussions. Decentralised protests have taken place across all cities and villages from the far south to the far north and east, and have included all social and age groups. This diverse and inclusive revolution has contributed to breaking the rigid sectarian and regional political discourse, disrupting traditional loyalties and breaking down barriers between social groups and regions. Some people think that this positive shift cannot be considered complete, but there is indeed a consensus that it is a very important and irreversible change, which will remain despite any setbacks. We must be confident that significant progress has been made regarding popular awareness and the ability of social movements to carry out direct political action in the streets.

    The revolution has achieved certain gains during the first round and is preparing for the next round, in which new laws and policies need to be adopted as soon as possible to overcome the ongoing financial and economic crises and set a base for a new and fairer economic paradigm.

    How connected is Lebanese civil society with its counterparts around the world, and what support does it need from international civil society in order to continue its struggle?

    Lebanese civil society is very rich and diverse, and it is connected to its counterparts around the world through different channels. It is indeed very active on the advocacy front and takes part in numerous international advocacy platforms.

    In these critical times, the country is going through, civil society is avoiding seeking any support from foreign counterparts, in order to refute all conspiracy theories and accusations that politicians and their affiliates have made against protesters and the revolution. In order to lessen all the claims fabricated against our genuine and national revolution, Lebanese civil society is very reluctant to receive any support that could amount to or be interpreted as intervention by any foreign actor. However, it would welcome solidarity actions and statements, especially those that denounce human rights violations committed against protesters.

    Civic space in Lebanon is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with the Arab NGO Network for Development through itswebsite andFacebook page, or follow@ArabNGONetwork on Twitter.

     

  • LEBANON: ‘The main culprits of the current crisis are bank owners and their greed for profit’

    Alaa KhorchidCIVICUS speaks about Lebanon’s ongoing financial crisis and the situation of depositors who are unable to access their savings with Alaa Khorchid, head of Depositors’ Outcry Association. 

    Depositors’ Outcry Association is a citizens’ group that formed in 2019 to support depositors’ attempts to withdraw their savings from Lebanese banks after their accounts were frozen in response to the financial crisis.

    Who is to blame for the situation Lebanese depositors are currently in?

    Lebanese depositors are desperate because their savings have been frozen, so they cannot withdraw them from banks. The way they are being mistreated is outrageous. If a depositor simply complains loudly, bank staff call the police on them. Even if they have a million dollars in the bank, depositors are unable to get medical treatment or pay for their kids’ university fees. Banks are only allowing them to withdraw US$140 a month, and are told if they have an issue with that limit, they can go ahead and file a lawsuit.

    The main culprits of the current crisis are bank owners, whose greed for profit got us to this point. What they did was a scam. They sent representatives abroad to convince Lebanese expatriates and foreigners to invest their money in Lebanese banks even though they knew we were heading into a crisis, while they smuggled their own money to France, the USA or the Gulf countries, where their investments amount to billions.

    Also responsible are state authorities, starting with Riad Salameh, governor of the Banque du Liban (BdL), Lebanon’s central bank. He should have regulated banks and held them accountable three years ago, but he didn’t.

    The government is responsible for not applying the laws on banks owners. They should have forced them to return depositors’ money out of their own pockets, but instead allowed them to smuggle their money abroad.

    The courts also have their share of responsibility, as they have thousands of cases pending, years after they’ve been filed. When cases filed by depositors in Lebanon reach a certain point they are shelved, while in France and the UK depositors managed to win their cases and get their money back.

    How have people organised to get their money back?

    People got together to fight collectively through organisations such asDepositors’ Outcry Association, which formed in 2019. Asan association, we have filed lawsuits against the BdL governor as well as the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) and one bank, the Société Générale de Banque au Liban (SGBL), that smuggled US$1.2 billion out of the country. All these lawsuits have been pending for years because most of the judiciary has been bribed by the banks. 

    We also support depositors by mediating between them and the banks. For example, we have a list of cancer patients that we shared with the banks to try and convince them to release some of their funds to enable people to pay for treatment. Some banks, but not all, have responded positively.

    Some depositors have gone the banks to get their money by whatever means. One of them was Sali Hafiz, whom we supported. Hafiz asked for our help; a lawyer and members of the association went inside the bank with her and over 100 members were outside the bank to cheer for her and ensure her safety. We also helped a retired serviceman in Chtoura retrieve some of his savings from the bank. The association’s lawyer follows up with depositors, and when a depositor enters a bank to try to get some of their money back, we spread the word among our supporters so people gather outside in support and make it harder for others to enter the bank or for security to kick them out.

    It is worth noting that not all the organisations out there are supporting depositors. There are several organisations funded by ABL or SGBL, which obviously always side with the banks. The same applies to local media, which continues to accept money from the banks in the form of advertising. Depositors have had their accounts blocked for three years on the grounds that there is no money to give them back, but the banks still find money to pay for advertising.

    What needs to change so the situation can be resolved?

    We don’t have a functioning governance system. Banks have retained people’s savings for three years and the BdL has allowed this to continue, while the judiciary has protected the banks by withholding thousands of cases without reaching a conclusion. Many judges have a financial incentive to behave this way: they got bank loans worth millions of US dollars, which they are now repaying in Lebanese lira at a ridiculous exchange rate – they will end up paying 10 per cent of the original amount. This is a real scandal.

    The first change needed is to replace the BdL governor. He is the one behind the financial policies issued in 2017 and 2018. He brought cash in from correspondent banks and loaned it to the state without any guarantees. He spent US$100 billion without ever being held accountable. He considers himself above the law: he faces multiple lawsuits but he simply refuses to show up in court. 

    What are the implications of the recently passed Banking Secrecy Law?

    Parliament passed an amended Banking Secrecy Law that will lift secrecy on the bank accounts belonging to public officials and major bankers. We find the new law acceptable, although we hoped it would apply retroactively. As we told the head of the Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee, we want to clarify what happened to the funds the political and financial elite transferred abroad after 17 October 2019, estimated at between US$13 and 15 billion. We want to understand who smuggled them and where to. But the new law won’t solve all the issues as there is no trust in the banking system.

    Another bill, the Capital Control Law, is set to be discussed in parliament, but there is still no final draft to comment on. Unfortunately, it is a bit too late to discuss capital controls, once capital has been massively smuggled abroad. Capital controls should have come a week, even a month into the crisis, but not after three years. Banks have smuggled the funds of the elite abroad because there were no legal impediments. The latest update we heard regarding the capital control law is that there will be no separate capital control law and it will be part of a larger recovery roadmap consisting of many changes in addition to capital control. We consider the potential recovery roadmap as a death sentence to depositors.

    What do you think about the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for approving a US$3 billion loan?

    According to the government, one of the IMF’s main conditions is to write off US$70 billion of depositors’ funds. If that is what the IMF wants in exchange for giving the state a US$3 billion loan, then of course we are against it. The IMF can’t ask the state and BdL to write off as much funds to ensure they get repaid for their loan. Some members of parliament promised us they would refuse to pass any legislation to that effect.

    But a reform requested by the IMF that is most important to us, and which ABL rejects, is the restructuring of banks. We hope that banks will be restructured and a timeline for repaying depositors will be released.

    At the beginning of the crisis, BdL had US$34 billion. Today, it has US$8 billion. Those billions are gone due to governance failures. If the same policies remain in place, nothing will work, regardless of whether the IMF gives the state a loan of US$3 or 10 billion. The first step to get out of this crisis should be to guarantee deposits, because the crisis wasn’t the depositors’ fault.

    In the past 15 years banks made over US$35 billion in profit, which was transferred abroad. We demand a forensic audit of each bank to find out which had profits, and how much. There are 40 banks in Lebanon. Why are they being treated as one? We should examine each separately. 


     Civic space in Lebanon is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Depositors’ Outcry Association through itsFacebook page.

     

  • LEBANON: ‘The political youth movement was a major pillar of the opposition to the ruling class’

    MarwanIssaCIVICUS speaks about the recent general election in Lebanon with Marwan Issa, research assistant with the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut.

    The Asfari Institute seeks to bridge academia and civil society activism. It does so through knowledge production, convenings and the creation of safe spaces for learning, dialogue and exchange. Located at the heart of the American University in Beirut, it functions as a regional hub for civil society working for diversity, inclusion, equality, accountability and sustainability.

    What was the political and economic context of Lebanon’s 15 May general election?

    The election was held while Lebanon faced one of its worst economic crises in recent history. People were experiencing severe hardship due to lack of essential items, including medicines. On election day, the currency exchange rate skyrocketed, with the US dollar going from 1,515 to around 30,000 Lebanese pounds. Not surprisingly, the majority held deep-seated anger against traditional ruling parties. This led many voters, and especially those in the diaspora, to elect new independent opposition parties and candidates.

    However, the intensity of the crisis also led many people to despair and crippled their desire or motivation for action. As a result, the revolutionary feelings stirred by the protests of 17 October 2019 largely died down, and many people felt their vote would not make any difference, which explains the low turnout.

    But this did not mean that people were not searching for alternatives: in fact, a solution-focused, rational debate has also emerged that is clearly different from the tribal methods of traditional political parties, which instrumentalise sectarianism, clientelism and fearmongering. New opposition groups have developed that criticise the traditional division between those who blame all the country’s problems on the presence of Hezbollah as an armed militia, and those who believe the presence of resistance against a potential threat from Israel is necessary. Both are viewed as serving the interests of the current political elite.

    In the face of this, the new opposition offers an alternative discourse focused on both sovereignty and economic justice. This debate about alternative economic and social solutions is very promising for the years ahead.

    How did youth-led groups engage with the election process?

    There are plenty of youth-led political groups in Lebanon, but the main one is Mada, the Network of Secular Clubs. The first secular clubs were formed in universities as an alternative to the domination of ruling class parties on campus and started to take part in university student council elections. Over the past few years, these secular clubs won more than two-thirds of the seats in student council elections, breaking the hegemony of traditional political parties. As a result, they have paved the way for a new type of discourse on and outside campuses. Now the Network has 21 clubs throughout the country – not just in universities but also in unions and regions – and continues to have a clear youth-led political discourse.

    In preparation for the election, Mada engaged in negotiations with other groups to form coalitions. In Beirut, Mada members were active in the creation of Beirut Tuqawem (Beirut Resists), a grassroots participatory campaign that included individuals and groups from various progressive circles. Those volunteering in these campaigns were mostly university students working alongside other Mada members who were a bit older – but still young, around 25 on average.

    Mada members were also active in launching campaigns in other parts of Lebanon, including al Janoub Youwajeh (The South Confronts), Jil al Teghyir (The Generation of Change), and the 17 October Coalition.

    So-called apolitical young people – young people not active in any political group – also mostly leaned towards voting for new independent opposition groups. They also encouraged those around them to do the same, which boosted the opposition movement. Had the voting age been 18 instead of 21, we could confidently say that the elections would have brought many more new faces to parliament.

    How free and fair was the election?

    The electoral process was plagued with violations that made the competition unfair. For instance, although there are strict caps on campaign spending, ruling class candidates violated the law and poured millions of dollars into their campaigns. This huge financial advantage allowed them to reach vast audiences, while opposition campaigns had much more limited resources.

    Bribery and clientelism were also rampant. In addition, smear campaigns and direct threats on opposition candidates were widely noticed. One of them, Ali Khalife, received direct threats following a smear campaign by pro-Hezbollah electronic armies. A few days before the election there were attacks by Tashnag party supporters on opposition groups in Metn and the beating of volunteers.

    On election day many violations were recorded, but they were highly dependent on the context. In the southern region, for example, violations included brawls, fights, and politically affiliated electoral assistants going inside voting booths alongside voters. In areas controlled by armed or powerful parties, such as Hezbollah and the Amal movement in the south, many people did not dare turn up to vote.

    How do you assess the election results?

    All the above combined, plus the fact that the ruling class also very carefully crafted the electoral law to suit its sectarian and partisan quota system, made for a tilted playing field. Under the circumstances, the results were promising and can be built upon.

    The election resulted in around 12 or 13 new opposition faces in parliament, plus a couple more who could be counted as part of the opposition but were in parliament already. The presence of 15 opposition, mostly new, legislators is great news. They have clear views regarding both the presence of an armed militia and the responsibility of banks and bank owners in the economic crisis. For instance, newly elected member of parliament Ibrahim Mneimneh, of Beirut Tuqawem, who got the most preferential votes among all new opposition candidates, has a progressive economic and social discourse and took a clear stand on issues related to security and arms.

    In contrast, candidates traditionally linked with the Syrian regime lost their seats, including Assaad Herdan in the south, Weeam Wahhab and Talal Erslan in Mount Lebanon, and Elie Ferzli in Bekaa. This was a huge victory against people who were puppets in the hands of the Syrian regime during the period in which Syria maintained a military presence in Lebanon, between the 1990s and 2005.

    Following the election, pro-change political forces must continue pushing for change in and outside parliament, supporting the newly elected members of parliament and holding them accountable for the implementation of their programme.

    What kind of international support does Lebanese civil society need?

    Youth-led groups have been at a significant financial disadvantage, and I believe they are the ones that need the most support. It only makes sense that the new generation be supported since waves of emigration keep rising as students and young people more generally lose hope in Lebanon. Financial support, however, should be conditional on the credibility of the opposition group receiving it; it must be directed towards groups with a proven commitment to democracy, social justice, and non-sectarian values.

    International organisations, embassies, and other entities could also express their support by including the perspectives of opposition groups in designing policies and humanitarian aid mechanisms because Lebanon’s ruling class has proven highly skilled at transforming aid into clientelism and perpetuating the cycle of violence and poverty for political gain.

    Civic space in Lebanon is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS monitor.
    Get in touch with the Asfari Institute through itswebsite and follow@AsfariInstitute on Twitter. 

     

  • LEBANON: ‘This crisis should be handled with a feminist vision’

    CIVICUS speaks to Lina Abou Habib, a feminist activist based in Beirut, Lebanon, about the civil society response to the emergency caused by the explosion on 4 August 2020. Lina teaches Global Feminisms at the American University of Beirut, where she is affiliated with the Asfari Institute, and chairs the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action, a regional feminist organisation working in the Middle East and North Africa. She also serves on the board of Gender at Work and as a strategic Middle East and North Africa advisor for the Global Fund for Women.

    Lina Abou Habib

    Would you tell us about the moment of the explosion?

    The Beirut explosion happened on 4 August 2020, at around 18:10 Beirut time. I was at home and I had known for an hour that there was a huge fire at the Beirut port. When the fire started getting bigger the sky was blackened by fumes. I was looking out, and the first thing I felt was a very scary earthquake-like feeling, after which it took a split second for a huge explosion to happen. Glass shattered all around me. It took me a couple of minutes to understand what had just happened. The first thing everyone was call our family and close friends just to make sure that they were okay. Everybody was in a state of disbelief. The explosion was so powerful that each one of us felt like it had happened right next to us.

    What was civil society’s immediate response?

    It is important to note that alongside the civil society response there was also an individual response. Individuals took to the streets in an attempt to help others. Nobody trusted that the state would help in any way. The state was responsible for what had happened. People took the responsibility for helping each other, which meant addressing immediate problems such as clearing rubble from the streets and talking to people to find out what they needed, including shelter and food. About 300,000 people had become homeless and lost everything in a split second. There was an extraordinary reaction by ordinary people to help: people with brooms and shovels started clearing rubble and distributing food and water. Anger turned into solidarity.

    This was an amazingly empowering moment that still continues. As we speak, there are volunteers and civil society organisations (CSOs) who are basically holding the fort and not only engaging in immediate relief but also providing all sorts of support to distressed populations.

    However, these acts of solidarity and care have also been criticised. The main criticism has been that such acts are unhelpful because they relieve the state from fulfilling its obligations and performing its duties. I understand this critique, but I don’t agree with it. To me, the acts of solidarity performed by civil society and ordinary people were our main success stories: stories of power and resistance that we should talk about. We need to highlight the immediate response provided individually by people who themselves had been hurt or had lost a lot. Migrant worker communities, who live in dire conditions of exploitation, racism and abuse, went out there to clear the rubble and help others. I don’t think we should ignore the significance of these acts of solidarity.

    Lebanon was already undergoing deep economic crisis, which was further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion. Which groups were impacted upon the most?

    The worst effects were felt by those who were already in the most vulnerable situations. A clear example of multiple forms of discrimination overlapping and reinforcing one another is the situation of female migrant workers in Lebanon. This is not new; this situation is decades old. First, migrant women work in the private sphere, which makes them even more invisible and vulnerable. Second, there are absolutely no rules that need to be followed to hire them, so they are basically at the mercy of their employers. They are kept in quasi-slavery conditions based on so-called ‘sponsorship contracts’. The air that they breathe is dependent on the will of their employers and they are completely bound to them. In sum, this is a population of women from poor countries of the global south who work as domestic workers and caregivers, positions that make them incredibly vulnerable to abuse. There are no laws that protect them and that has always been the case. Therefore, they are the ones left behind when there is a security issue or a political crisis.

    Three consecutive events have affected their situation. The first is the revolution that started on 17 October 2019, an incredibly important moment that was the culmination of years of activism, including by women migrant workers, who were supported, nurtured and mentored by young Lebanese feminists. As a result, in the midst of the revolution there were migrant workers who revolted against the sponsorship system, which deprives them of their humanity and exposes them to working conditions that amount to slavery, and demanded dignified work and a dignified life.

    And then there were the economic breakdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which hit as the protests were still ongoing. As a result of the economic crunch, some people choose to not pay their migrant and domestic workers’ salaries, or even worst, simply disposed of them on the streets during the pandemic.

    And then the Beirut port explosion happened, which again affected migrant workers in particular. It was a succession of crises that hit migrant workers first and foremost, and particularly women, because they were already in precarious conditions in which they were abused, their labour taken for granted and then thrown away on the streets, forgotten by their embassies and ignored by the Lebanese government. 

    As an activist and a feminist, how do you view the government response to the explosion?

    There hasn’t been any responsible government response. I would not even call what we have a government, but rather a regime. It is a corrupt dictatorship, an authoritarian regime that continues to pretend to be democratic and even progressive. The regime says it embodies reforms, but it never follows through. For instance, 10 days into the revolution, in October 2019, the president addressed the nation and promised an egalitarian civil family law, which feminist activists have been demanding for decades. This came as a surprise, but it turned out that it wasn’t serious, as nothing has been done about it. The authorities just say whatever they think people want to hear, and they seem to be convinced that the public is too ignorant to notice.

    So we need to position the response to the explosion against the background of the recent uprising. The government’s response to the revolution has been to not acknowledge the problems that people were pointing at: that it had emptied the public coffers, that it continued to exercise nepotism and corruption and, worst of all, that it was dismantling public institutions. The only government response has been to close the space for civil society and attack the freedoms of association and expression and the right to protest. I’ve lived in this country for most of my life, including through the civil war, and I think there hasn’t been a crackdown on freedoms of the magnitude we are seeing right now under this regime. We have never witnessed people being summoned by the police or general security because of something they said or posted on social media. This is exactly what the regime is doing and continues to do. The president is acting as if there was a lèse-majesté law and is not accepting any criticism; people who criticise him are paying with their freedom. It is the first time we hear about activists being detained for this reason.

    In short, the regime hasn’t done anything significant in response to the explosion. Sending the army to distribute food aid packets is in no way significant. They are even refusing to give food aid items to non-Lebanese people who were affected. This exposes the various layers of corruption, bigotry and mismanagement that are at interplay here.

    Following the explosion, people took to the streets again to protest. Do you think protests have made an impact?

    On the Saturday following the explosion there were people protesting on the streets. I was there and I was scared because of the deployment of violence by the security forces.

    In the face of so many calamities, the only reason why people are not massively on the streets is because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a gift for the regime. It has imposed curfews, broke up the tents set up by the revolutionaries at Martyrs’ Square and arrested and detained people, all under the guise of wanting to protect people from the virus. But of course, nobody is duped. The levels of contagion are increasing rather than decreasing. It doesn’t help that the regime is so corrupt that we basically don’t have any functioning health services.

    The constraints created by the pandemic and the fears for one’s health are seriously limiting people’s actions against the regime, but I don’t think this is going to stop the revolution. People have had enough. People have lost everything. And when you push people’s backs to the wall, there is nowhere else to go but forward. The regime will continue to use brutal force, it will continue to lie and mismanage funds and resources, but this is becoming totally unacceptable to an increasingly larger proportion of the population.

    I believe that street mobilisation has been successful on several levels. One can disagree and point out that the regime is still in power, and this may be true; it will take a long time for it to fall. But one immediate success of the protests is that they shattered a taboo. There was a kind of halo or sanctity around certain leaders who were believed to be untouchable. Now it's obvious that they don’t enjoy that protection any longer. Although the regime is not ready to concede, they are just buying themselves some time.

    The way I see it, a major gain has been the leadership role played by feminist groups in shaping the country that we want, the rights and entitlements we are claiming and the form of government that we want. Alongside 40 feminist organisations we have released a charter of demands. We put our heads together and have stated what humanitarian reconstruction needs to look like from a feminist perspective and are using this as an advocacy tool for the international community. The way we are intervening indicates that this crisis should be handled with a feminist vision.

    Additionally, for the first time the LGBTQI+ community has been part and parcel in shaping the reform process, the transition process and again shaping the country we want, regarding both the form of state and human relations. And the voice of the migrant community has been amplified as well. To me, these gains are irreversible.

    What support does civil society in Beirut and Lebanon need from the international community?

    There are a number of things that need to be done. First, we need tangible forms of solidarity in terms of communications to amplify our voice. Second, we need to lobby the international community on behalf of the Lebanese feminist movement so that the Lebanese regime is held accountable for every cent it receives. To give an example, we received about 1,700 kilograms of tea from Sri Lanka, and the tea has disappeared; it appears that the president distributed it among the presidential guards. We need influence and pressure from the international community to hold this regime accountable. Third, we need to bring these voices to the attention of international mainstream media.

    I want to emphasise the point that international aid should not be without conditions, as the ruling regime lacks transparency and accountability. Of course it is not up to civil society to rebuild, or to reconstruct the infrastructure. But if any cent has to go to the regime, then it must be given with conditionalities of transparency, accountability and due diligence. Civil society must be empowered to play a watchdog role. This means that CSOs must have the voice and the tools for monitoring. Otherwise nothing is going to change. International aid will vanish; it will only help the regime prolong its rule while the city remains in ruins.

    Civic space in Lebanon is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action through itswebpage, and follow@LinaAH1 on Twitter.

     

  • LEBANON: ‘This election has brought to the forefront new voices speaking about rights’

    Lina Abou HabibCIVICUS speaks about the recent general elections in Lebanon with Lina Abou Habib, director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut.

    The Asfari Institute seeks to bridge academia and civil society activism. It does so through knowledge production, convenings and the creation of safe spaces for learning, dialogue and exchange. Located at the heart of the American University in Beirut, it functions as a regional hub for civil society working for diversity, inclusion, equality, accountability and sustainability.

    What change resulted from the 15 May general election?

    Despite taking place in an extremely complicated, uncertain and turbulent political and economic context, the process resulted in the election of many new independent candidates coming from civil society and calling for change. These new voices have political agendas that are very different from those of traditional ruling parties: they call for a new, more accountable governance system and for women’s rights, among other issues. These agendas include road maps for overcoming the ongoing deep economic crisis. And most importantly, they focus on how to stop the political race to the bottom that’s been happening in Lebanon.

    Most of the independent candidates who were elected are linked to the 17 October protests, the uprisings that took place in 2019, when people clearly said that they had enough of the political elite that had become – and continues to be – outrageously corrupt. The 17 October Revolution was a unique moment because protesters had such diverse, inclusive and feminist voices – feminist demands became an integral part of the political demands of the revolution. For instance, sexual harassment became a political issue because the voices of the LGBTQI+ community and migrant women domestic workers were also represented. No demand was compromised or put aside.

    By that time, it became clear to us what system of governance we aspired to. It must be based on equality, inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights. The revolution also gained momentum because the same thing was happening in Chile and other countries where people were rising up. Hence, I do not exaggerate when I say that the feminist voices of the 17 October Revolution inspired political participation in the 2022 election.

    It is important to note, however, that some independent members of the new parliament do not share the agenda of the 17 October Revolution and have quite regressive rhetoric. For instance, newly elected member of parliament Cynthia Zarazir called for the death of Syrian refugees on social media. Having people like her in parliament represents a new challenge. Aside from that, I would say that this election has brought to the forefront new voices speaking about rights and pointing the way forward out of the current crisis.

    How did the feminist movement work collectively in preparation for the election?

    There was rallying behind feminist candidates such as Zoya Jureidini Rouhana, who pushes for an compulsory egalitarian family law, a top priority for Lebanon’s feminist movement. Rouhana is the founder of KAFA (‘enough’) Violence and Exploitation, a feminist civil society organisation that was behind several legal reforms in Lebanon. Moreover, it champions political discourse on gender-based violence. Her electoral campaign was in line with that. It is a rare moment when you have a feminist candidate running on a feminist agenda in a general election – and this was partly possible thanks to the voices that became heard in October 2019. The political movement took shape and gained more feminist voices during those uprisings.

    Feminists mobilising around the elections forced candidates to state their position on gender equality, including the rights of the queer community. In return, independent candidates who sided with gender equality were attacked by the regime and conservative forces. One way for government officials and supporters to disparage and attack somebody is to say they are going to endanger the family. This is very unfortunate, but at the same time, it is fantastic that this important conversation is taking place in the public sphere and these issues are being discussed as part of the overall social and political dialogue.

    In sum, the inclusive and intersectional feminist movement of Lebanon has succeeded in elevating feminist discourse to the public and political arena. But there is still a long way to go: the new parliament includes only two additional female members compared to the previous one, as only eight women were elected, out of 115 candidates nominated by traditional parties, opposition groups, and civil society. These results are still lacking in terms of reaching a critical mass to exercise feminist influence in parliament.

    What’s next for the civil society movement following the election?

    The real battle is just about to begin. The election showed that change is possible, but it is still not enough. The next step for us is to figure out how we will hold independent members of parliament accountable. They must be accountable because they won as a result of our collective movement.

    We will still be facing a corrupt and oppressive regime and serious issues such as illegal arms and a heavily militarised society, economic downfall, destroyed livelihoods, broken public institutions and irresponsible and unaccountable policymaking. As such, civil society in its diversity, and especially the intersectional feminist movement, should remain vigilant.

    The conversation we started must continue, and we need our international allies to help keep it going, and certainly not be complicit with the regime. We have a collective responsibility to monitor human rights violations, talk to feminist activists and help amplify the voices of Lebanon’s intersectional young feminists.

    Civic space in Lebanon is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS monitor.
    Get in touch with the Asfari Institute through itswebsite and follow@AsfariInstitute on Twitter.

     

  • Lebanon's Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Statement at 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Adoption of the Universaly Periodic Review report of the Lebanese Republic


    CIVICUS welcomes Lebanon’s participation in the UPR process and for accepting 20 recommendations relating to civic space during this UPR cycle. However, in our joint UPR submission with partners we documented that since its last review, the Lebanese Republic has not implemented or taken any concrete steps to implement 5 of the 6 recommendations relating to civic space made in 2015.

    The Lebanese authorities continue to use excessive force against peaceful protesters when ever they demonstrate and attack journalists and representatives of the media who cover the protests. For example, security forces used excessive force and violence against protesters in August 2020 when the demonstrators called for an end to corruption and for accountability and independent investigations into the 4 August 2020 blast in Beirut. We urge Lebanon to implement as a priority recommendations relating to excessive use of force and freedom of peaceful assembly.

    Members of the LGBTI community are regularly subjected to harassment and persecution through vague and discriminatory laws.  Events are shut down and activists are summoned for interrogation.  

    Freedom of expression and media freedoms continue to deteriorate in Lebanon.   During the October 2019 protests, more than a hundred journalists and media workers were attacked as they covered the demonstrations and many of these attacks were perpetuated by government agents. Many of these attacks were captured on video yet those responsible have not been held accountable. This failure or unwillingness of the government to hold those responsible to account emboldens the perpetrators with a high sense of impunity.

    We are also concerned about the killing of Lebanese human rights defender Lokman Slim who was found in his car by the Lebanese police after he was shot dead in February 2021 in the South of Lebanon. He advocated for the rights of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and documented war crimes in Lebanon and Syria.

    CIVICUS and partners calls on the Government of Lebanon to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


    Civic space in Lebanon is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Progress and shortcomings from 44th Session of the Human Rights Council

    Joint Statement for the end of the 44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    The 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council began with China's imposition of legislation severely undermining rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. Within days, there were reports of hundreds of arrests, some for crimes that didn’t even exist previously. We welcome efforts this session by a growing number of States to collectively address China’s sweeping rights abuses, but more is needed. An unprecedented 50 Special Procedures recently expressed concerns at China’s mass violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, suppression of information in the context of Covid-19, and targeting of human rights defenders across the country. The Council should heed the call of these UN experts to hold a Special Session and create a mechanism to monitor and document rights violations in the country. No state is beyond international scrutiny. China’s turn has come.

    The 44th session also marked an important opportunity to enable those affected directly by human rights violations to speak to the Council through NGO video statements.

    Amnesty's Laith Abu Zeyad addressed the Council remotely from the occupied West Bank where he has been trapped by a punitive travel ban imposed by Israel since October 2019. We call on the Israeli authorities to end all punitive or arbitrary travel bans.

    During the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, victims’ associations and families of victims highlighted the human rights violations occurring in detention centers in Syria. We welcome the efforts by some States to underline their demands and welcome the adoption of the Syria resolution on detainees and urge the Syrian government to take all feasible measures to release detainees and provide truth to the families, noting the important pressure needed by Member States to further call for accountability measures for crimes committed in Syria.

    Collette Flanagan, Founder of Mothers against Police Brutality, also delivered a powerful video statement at the Council explaining the reality of racist policing in the United States of America. We fully support victims’ families’ appeals to the Council for accountability.

    We hope that the High Commissioner's reporton systemic racism, police violence and government responses to antiracism peaceful protests will be the first step in a series of meaningful international accountability measures to fully and independently investigate police killings, to protect and facilitate Black Lives Matter and other protests, and to provide effective remedy and compensation to victims and their families in the United States of America and around the world.

    We appreciate the efforts made by the Council Presidency and OHCHR to overcome the challenges of resuming the Council’s work while taking seriously health risks associated with COVID-19, including by increasing remote and online participation. We recommend that remote civil society participation continue and be strengthened for all future sessions of the Council.

    Despite these efforts, delays in finalising the session dates and modalities, and subsequent changes in the programme of work, reduced the time CSOs had to prepare and engage meaningfully. This has a disproportionate impact on CSOs not based in Geneva, those based in different time zones and those with less capacity to monitor the live proceedings. Other barriers to civil society participation this session included difficulties to meet the strict technical requirements for uploading video statements, to access resolution drafts and follow informal negotiations remotely, especially from other time zones, as well as a decrease in the overall number of speaking slots available for NGO statements due to the cancellation of general debates this session as an ‘efficiency measure.’

    We welcome the joint statement led by the core group on civil society space and endorsed by cross regional States and civil society, which calls on the High Commissioner to ensure that the essential role of civil society, and States’ efforts to protect and promote civil society space, are reflected in the report on impact of the COVID-19 pandemic presented to the 46th Session of the HRC. We urge all States at this Council to recognise and protect the key role that those who defend human rights play.

    These last two years have seen unlawful use of force perpetrated by law enforcement against peaceful protesters, protest monitors, journalists worldwide, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, to Chile to France, Kenya to Iraq to Algeria, to India to Lebanon with impunity.

    We therefore welcome that the resolution “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” was adopted by consensus, and that the Council stood strongly against some proposed amendments which would have weakened it. We also welcome the inclusion in the resolution of a panel during the 48th session to discuss such events and how States can strengthen protections. We urge States to ensure full accountability for such human rights violations as an essential element of the protection of human rights in the context of protests. The current context has accelerated the urgency of protecting online assembly, and we welcome that the resolution reaffirms that peaceful assembly rights guaranteed offline are also guaranteed online. In particular, we also commend the resolution for calling on States to refrain from internet shutdowns and website blocking during protests, while incorporating language on the effects of new and emerging technologies, particularly tools such as facial recognition, international mobile subscriber identity-catchers (“stingrays”) and closed-circuit television.

    We welcome that the resolution on “freedom of opinion and expression” contains positive language including on obligations surrounding the right to information, emphasising the importance of measures for encryption and anonymity, and strongly condemning the use of internet shutdowns. Following the High Commissioner’s statement raising alarm at the abuse of ‘false news’ laws to crackdown on free expression during the COVID-19 pandemic, we also welcome that the resolution stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. At the same time, we are concerned by the last minute addition of language which focuses on restrictions to freedom of expression, detracting from the purpose of the resolution to promote and protect the right. As we look to the future, it is important that the core group builds on commitments contained in the resolution and elaborate on pressing freedom of expression concerns of the day, particularly for the digital age, such as the issue of surveillance or internet intermediary liability, while refocusing elements of the text.

    The current context has not only accelerated the urgency of protecting assembly and access to information, but also the global recognition of the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. We welcome the timely discussions on ”realizing children’s right to a healthy environment” and the concrete suggestions for action from panelists, States, and civil society. The COVID-19 crisis, brought about by animal-to-human viral transmission, has clarified the interlinkages between the health of the planet and the health of all people. We therefore support the UN Secretary General’s call to action on human rights, as well as the High Commissioner’s statement advocating for the global recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment – already widely reflected at national and regional levels - and ask that the Council adopts a resolution in that sense. We also support the calls made by the Marshall Islands, Climate Vulnerable Forum, and other States of the Pacific particularly affected and threatened by climate change. We now urge the Council to strengthen its role in tackling the climate crisis and its adverse impacts on the realization of human rights by establishing a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change, which will help address the urgency of the situation and amplify the voices of affected communities.

    The COVID crisis has also exacerbated discrimination against women and girls. We welcome the adoption by the Council of a strong resolution on multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination against women and girls, which are exacerbated in times of a global pandemic. The text, inter alia, reaffirms the rights to sexual and reproductive health and to bodily autonomy, and emphasizes legal obligations of States to review their legislative frameworks through an intersectional approach. We regret that such a timely topic has been questioned by certain States and that several amendments were put forward on previously agreed language.

    The Council discussed several country-specific situations, and renewed the mandates in some situations.

    We welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and ongoing scrutiny on Belarus. The unprecedented crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and members of the political opposition in recent weeks ahead of the Presidential election in August provide a clear justification for the continued focus, and the need to ensure accountability for Belarus’ actions. With concerns that the violations may increase further over the next few weeks, it is essential that the Council members and observers maintain scrutiny and pressure even after the session has finished.

    We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. We urge the government to engage, in line with its Council membership obligations, as the Special Rapporteur’s ‘benchmarks for progress’ form a road map for human rights reform in the country. We welcome the High Commissioner report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which concluded, among other things, that the ongoing killings appear to be widespread and systematic and that “the practical obstacles to accessing justice in the country are almost insurmountable.” We regret that even during this Council session, President Duterte signed an Anti Terrorism Law with broad and vague definition of terrorism and terrorists and other problematic provisions for human rights and rule of law, which we fear will be used to stifle and curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Also during this session, in a further attack on press freedom, Philippine Congress rejected the franchise renewal of independent media network ABS-CBN, while prominent journalist Maria Ressa and her news website Rappler continue to face court proceedings and attacks from President Duterte after Ressa’s cyber libel conviction in mid-June. We support the call from a group of Special Procedures to the Council to establish an independent, impartial investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines and urge the Council to establish it at the next session.

    The two reports presented to the Council on Venezuela this session further document how lack of judicial independence and other factors perpetuate impunity and prevent access to justice for a wide range of violations of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights in the country. We also urge the Council to stand ready to extend, enhance and expand the mandate of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission when it reports in September. We also welcome the report of the Special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 and reiterate his call for States to ensure Israel puts an end to all forms of collective punishment. We also reiterate his call to ensure that the UN database of businesses involved with Israeli settlements becomes a living tool, through sufficient resourcing and annual updating.

    We regret, however, that several States have escaped collective scrutiny this session.

    We reiterate the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard’s call to pressure Saudi Arabia to release prisoners of conscience and women human rights defenders and call on all States to sustain the Council’s scrutiny over the situation at the September session.

    Despite calls by the High Commissioner for prisoners’ release, Egypt has arrested defenders, journalists, doctors and medical workers for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 response. We recall that all of the defenders that the Special Procedures and the High Commissioner called for their release since September 2019 are still in pre-trial detention. The Supreme State Security Prosecution and 'Terrorism Circuit courts' in Egypt, are enabling pre-trial detention as a form of punishment including against human rights defenders and journalists and political opponents, such as Ibrahim Metwally, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ramy Kamel, Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Patrick Zaky, Ramy Shaat, Eman Al-Helw, Solafa Magdy and Hossam El-Sayed. Once the terrorism circuit courts resumed after they were suspended due to COVID-19, they renewed their detention retroactively without their presence in court. It’s high time the Council holds Egypt accountable.

    As highlighted in a joint statement of Special Procedures, we call on the Indian authorities to immediately release HRDs, who include students, activists and protest leaders, arrested for protesting against changes to India’s citizenship laws. Also eleven prominent HRDs continue to be imprisoned under false charges in the Bhima Koregaon case. These activists face unfounded terror charges under draconian laws such as sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. While we welcome that Safoora Zargar was granted bail on humanitarian grounds, the others remain at high risk during a COVID-19 pandemic in prisons with not only inadequate sanitary conditions but also limited to no access to legal counsel and family members. A number of activists have tested positive in prison, including Akhil Gogoi and 80-year-old activist Varavara Rao amid a larger wave of infections that have affected many more prisoners across the country. Such charges against protestors, who were exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly must be dropped. We call on this Council to strengthen their demands to the government of India for accountability over the excessive use of force by the police and other State authorities against the demonstrators.

    In Algeria, between 30 March and 16 April 2020, the Special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders, issued three urgent appeals in relation to cases involving arbitrary and violent arrests, unfair trials and reprisals against human rights defenders and peaceful activists Olaya Saadi, Karim Tabbou and Slimane Hamitouche. Yet, the Council has been silent with no mention of the crackdown on Algerian civil society, including journalists.

    To conclude on a positive note, we welcome the progress in the establishment of the OHCHR country office in Sudan, and call on the international community to continue to provide support where needed to the transitional authorities. While also welcoming their latest reform announcements, we urge the transitional authorities to speed up the transitional process, including reforms within the judiciary and security sectors, in order to answer the renewed calls from protesters for the enjoyment of "freedom, peace and justice" of all in Sudan. We call on the Council to ensure continued monitoring and reporting on Sudan.

    ENDORSEMENTS

    International Service for Human Rights
    DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    Center for Reproductive Rights
    Franciscans International
    The Syrian Legal Development Programme
    Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
    International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA World)
    Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
    ARTICLE 19
    International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    IFEX
    Association for Progressive Communications
    International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
    Amnesty International

     


    Current council members:

    Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina FasoBrazil, Cameroon, Chile, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, Germany, India, Indonesia, ItalyJapan, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Slovakia, SomaliaSudan, Spain, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela

    Civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor

    OPEN NARROWED OBSTRUCTED  REPRESSED CLOSED