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Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Ask Lebanon about the Kafala System for Migrant Domestic Workers, the Absence of a Definition of Racial Discrimination, and the Treatment of Refugees

Meeting Summaries

 

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-third to twenty-fourth periodic report of Lebanon after its Experts raised questions about the kafala system for migrant domestic workers, the absence of a definition of racial discrimination, and the treatment of refugees, among others.

On migrant domestic workers, the Committee Experts said that they continued to be victims of discrimination and violence, often confined to the residency of their employer, and passports were withheld from them. There was a need to abolish the sponsorship system and the requirement to reside in the home of the employer. The kafala system was a source of discrimination and violence and it must be abolished.

Lebanon did not yet have a law that defined racial discrimination. Committee Experts asked about measures taken to adopt a specific law regarding discrimination, in line with the provisions of article 1 of the Convention. The Lebanese Criminal Code criminalised any act of racial discrimination in general terms. From that standpoint, the Committee was concerned regarding a lack of clarity in the legislation prohibiting racist speech, stereotyping, and stigmatisation, particularly against refugees.

Concerning refugees, the Committee Experts were concerned about curfew measures imposed on refugees, particularly on Syrian refugees. Control points at entrances and exits of refugee camps slowed down ambulances and were perceived as a humiliation by the refugees. The situation of Palestinian refugees was particularly concerning and the Experts asked for updated information on any efforts by Lebanon to promote and protect their rights. The situation of Syrian refugees held in detention centres was also concerning – what measures were being taken to punish those perpetrating crimes against them and to provide reparations to victims?

Salim Baddoura, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, stated that Lebanon was facing exceptionally difficult circumstances as a result of various severe crises that were affecting the country, especially the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lebanon was also still facing a stifling refugee crisis as it was hosting more than one million displaced Syrians, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, as well as refugees from other countries, and this was causing a deterioration of the living conditions and put a great weight on the host community, in addition to the hostile intentions of Israel towards Lebanon and the transgressions against the Lebanese people in south Lebanon.

Despite these circumstances, Mr. Badourra said Lebanon remained committed to shoulder all its international responsibilities, especially in the field of human rights, and adhered to the international human rights mechanisms, which made up one of the most important pillars to strengthen and promote human rights. Lebanon sought not to distinguish between citizens and refugees in providing basic services.

The delegation of Lebanon said that a standard employment contract for domestic migrant workers was being utilised since 2009, protecting their rights and organising a contractual relationship in an equitable manner. A new standard unified contract for domestic migrant workers had been adopted by the Labour Ministry in 2020 but was unfortunately suspended by the Lebanese State Shura Council. The Ministry of Justice had activated a hotline for migrant domestic workers to complain about treatment and commence a dispute. Seventy-seven such complaints were addressed to the Ministry in 2020.

While there were no specific provisions against racial discrimination, the delegation said judges could cite the Convention, as it was a higher force in comparison to national law. The Criminal Code criminalised all acts of discrimination that could embody hate speech or instigation against any communities. Racist speech against migrant workers and refugees was being combatted by various Lebanese authorities.

Concerning refugees, the delegation said that the Ministry of Labour decision 193 of 5 August 2017 provided a list of various documents needed for Palestinian refugees to obtain a work permit, which they were able to do. The Lebanese Government adopted a legal framework to protect refugees in 2003, signing a memo of understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ensuring temporary protection for refugees in Lebanon. Palestinian refugees had complete freedom of movement, whether in Lebanon or when going abroad. Laws providing an appropriate and reasonable timeframe for birth registration applied to both Lebanese and non-Lebanese persons without discrimination. There were between 25,000 to 30,000 birth registration cases among Syrian refugees, as Lebanon had undertaken an awareness raising campaign among refugees to register their children so that they would have identification documents, also helping to enrol them into schools and kindergartens.

In his concluding remarks, Ibrahima Guissé, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lebanon, welcomed the open and candid dialogue, commending the entire Lebanese delegation given the difficult context, particularly the power cuts in the country affecting their ability to hear all questions and to provide replies.

Salim Baddoura, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that a major step forward was taken on the path of strengthening the fight against racial discrimination and racism in Lebanon in this meeting.

Li Yanduan, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of the Racial Discrimination, thanked the delegation for their participation.

The delegation of Lebanon consisted of representatives of the Council of Ministers, Internal Security, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Labour, National Commission for Lebanese Women, Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Ministry of Social Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Lebanon at the end of its one hundred and fourth session on 25 August. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 16 August at 4 p.m. to start its consideration of the combined twenty-second to twenty-forth periodic report of the Netherlands (CERD/C/NLD/22-24).

Report

The Committee has before it the combined twenty-third to twenty-fourth periodic report of Lebanon (CERD/C/LBN/23-24).

Presentation of the Report

SALIM BADDOURA, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, stated that Lebanon was facing exceptionally difficult circumstances as a result of various severe crises that were affecting the country, especially the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lebanon was also still facing a stifling refugee crisis as it was hosting more than one million displaced Syrians, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, as well as refugees from other countries, and this was causing a deterioration of the living conditions and put a great weight on the host community, in addition to the hostile intentions of Israel towards Lebanon and the transgressions against the Lebanese people in south Lebanon. Despite these circumstances, Lebanon remained committed to shoulder all its international responsibilities, especially in the field of human rights, and adhered to the international human rights mechanisms, which made up one of the most important pillars to strengthen and promote human rights. Lebanon sought not to distinguish between citizens and refugees in providing basic services. For example, the Ministry of Social Affairs, in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the international community, had developed a plan to respond to the Syrian displacement crisis. In a related context, the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee had drawn up a plan to help Palestinian refugee camps better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 4 August 2020, Lebanon had witnessed a huge explosion that completely destroyed the port of Beirut and caused serious material damage throughout the city, especially in neighbourhoods adjacent to the port. Lebanese agencies, in cooperation with the international community and civil society, had conducted a comprehensive survey of the damage and provided assistance to the affected people and residents without any discrimination. The Ministry of Social Affairs, in partnership with the international community, had developed a national strategy for the protection of women and children. It was important to note the efforts of the Ministry of Justice and the National Authority for Lebanese Women's Affairs to amend several laws that still discriminated between women and men, in addition to laws that provided greater protection for women, such as amending the Domestic Violence Act. Lebanon was currently working to modernise the National Plan for Human Rights through a transparent participatory process, in cooperation with representatives of all relevant government agencies, the House of Representatives and Lebanese civil society.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur, Members of the Taskforce for Lebanon, and the Rapporteur for Follow-up

IBRAHIMA GUISSÉ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lebanon, welcomed the high-level makeup of the delegation of Lebanon, noting it represented the country’s commitment to human rights. One year after the port of Beirut explosion, the Committee extended its full compassion to the people of Lebanon.

Lebanon did not yet have a law that defined racial discrimination – the Committee would appreciate answers regarding measures taken to adopt a specific law regarding discrimination, in line with the provisions of article 1 of the Convention.

The Lebanese Criminal Code criminalised any act of racial discrimination in general terms. From that standpoint, the Committee was concerned regarding a lack of clarity in the legislation prohibiting racist speech, stereotyping, and stigmatisation, particularly against refugees. What steps had been taken to prohibit and punish racist hate speech and discrimination? There was no criminalisation of the dissemination of ideas and organizations that spread racial hatred. As such, the Country Rapporteur sought updated information on legislation being prepared in this regard.

Regarding migrant domestic workers, the Committee was informed that unlike nationals, personal information and addresses were noted, potentially giving rise to targeted harassment. Was this investigated and punished, and were victims provided with reparations?

MARC BOSSUYT, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Lebanon, noted Lebanon’s extraordinary economic and financial difficulties following the Beirut port explosion. On 23 May 2015, the Council of Ministers had adopted a decree to appoint 10 members to the National Human Rights Institution, however it did not seem that this commission was operational, nor did it seem that the Lebanese budget allowed for its functioning.

Mr. Bossuyt asked for information on the Human Rights Action Plan and whether the fight against racial discrimination would be included therein, whether ringfenced resources would be available to the independent commission, and whether the independent national human rights commission had a mandate to address racial discrimination, and if so, what work had been carried out by the commission already? An evaluation of the previous plan was underway – what was the outcome of this process?

BAKARI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Lebanon, stated that the Committee would appreciate even a short summary with regards to the justice system and cases linked to racial discrimination. Information was requested regarding progress on the efforts to coordinate among Ministries to improve education with regards to racial discrimination, such as new textbooks, representation of various communities in materials, and ensuring a coherent and clear access for refugee children to schools.

GUN KUT, Committee Member and Rapporteur for follow-up to concluding observations, thanked the delegation of Lebanon for their acceptance of conducting this discussion under such circumstances. Welcoming the delegation’s compliance with the one-year delay in presenting the follow-up interim report, Mr. Kut noted the importance of timely reporting.

The current report dated back a few years, therefore the Committee would like to hear more regarding developments that had taken place since the submission of the periodic report, regarding the proper functioning and implementation of the National Human Rights Institution and Action Plan, as well as any developments regarding the right to education and restrictions to education on the grounds of nationality and migration status.

Replies by the Delegation

In response to the questions and comments, the delegation of Lebanon said that the new National Human Rights Action Plan was based on fundamental freedoms and took into account observations of the review of the previous Action Plan. The Human Rights Commission created two draft laws in 2019, finally submitting them in June 2020 after various amendments. However, before passing them, the Government resigned in August 2020 after the Beirut port explosion, leading to delays in the adoption of laws related to the human rights institution. The ratification of the two laws would happen as soon as the new cabinet had been formed, or once a positive response from the State Council had been received.

While there were no specific provisions against racial discrimination, judges could cite the Convention, as it was a higher force in comparison to national law. The Criminal Code criminalised all acts of discrimination that could embody hate speech or instigation against any communities. Any complaint of racial discrimination was followed up by the authorities towards a final ruling. The total absence of digitisation sometimes made it difficult to obtain statistical data, and the COVID lockdown had made the situation more complicated. Victims had the right to request reparations according to the law. Lebanon had passed a law establishing an authority to receive discrimination complaints.

Regarding education, syllabi and curricula had been upgraded in line with Lebanon’s values, teaching children the principles of accepting and understanding the other, and strengthening the bonds of humanity regardless or religion, sex or colour. All levels of education were based on these principles of tolerance, in public or private schools. Each community was allowed to have its own schools, provided the content of education was in line with Lebanon’s values. Formulation of curricula was done with the understanding that Lebanon had a large refugee population.

Refugee children were able to join schools regardless of their financial resources or identification documents. Therefore, it was natural to test the children to know at which level these children should join. Some even considered that migrants had more privileges. Some Syrian children performed very well in the official exams, coming at the top of their classes. Any student going to school was entitled to a certificate indicating their exam results, enabling children to continue studying in any country.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East was responsible for ensuring the access of Palestinian refugees to education. One in three Palestinian refugees received education in Lebanese schools without any discrimination. The registration mechanism allowed Palestinian refugees to accede to universities under the same conditions that were afforded to Lebanese students.

A law to create a mechanism to enable the reception of complaints in an automated manner to facilitate the collection of statistics had been passed.

Racist speech against migrant workers and refugees was being combatted by various Lebanese authorities. In 2018, a National Strategy to Prevent Racism and Fundamentalism was adopted by the Parliament to combat violent extremism. The Strategy included nine pillars: dialogue; good governance; justice, human rights, and rule of law; civic integration and civil society; gender equality and empowerment of women; education and skills; economic development and job opportunities; strategic communications; and empowerment of youth. Its goals included generating a culture of human rights through training to reduce tensions between host communities and refugees.

Follow up Questions by Committee Experts

IBRAHIMA GUISSÉ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lebanon, welcomed the information regarding civil society and the National Human Rights Institution. The Country Rapporteur requested more information on the curfews that were in place in 15 of 45 municipalities.

BAKARI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Lebanon, asked for more information regarding complaints brought before courts. From physical registers, was it possible to get some information, however nascent, regarding Beirut or other big cities, to get an idea of the kind of complaints brought before the justice system?

A Committee Expert asked about the establishment of theAcademy for Human Encounters and Dialogue. Regarding education, more information on human rights curriculum was requested, such as whether the curriculum reflected Lebanon’s history through this lens.

Experts hoped that Lebanon would take into account the need for more concrete and up-to-date data when submitting the next report.

Replies by the Delegation

SALIM BADDOURA, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that the Academy for Human Encounters and Dialogue had been established, but was now waiting for the international treaty to enter into force, as other countries had to join in for the Academy to be able to function. Lebanon had dedicated a parcel of land for the Academy in the coastal region of Damour. The difficulties facing Lebanon had hindered the efforts to fully set up the Academy.

The lack of detailed data on the number of racial discrimination complaints did not mean that Lebanon was not abreast of the situation. The Ministry of Justice was seeking to identify the relevant information, including some means to collect data in the Beirut area.

Regarding the curriculum’s reflection of Lebanon’s history, private and public schools could choose from a range of books. In 2002-2003 a committee of historians was put in place to unify the history curriculum. There was no one official history book, however – it was up to schools to choose the most appropriate books.

Questions by Committee Experts

BAKARI SIDIKI DIABY, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Lebanon, asked whether Lebanon had made any progress on modifying the law on nationality that was adopted in 1925 and was based on jus sanguinis, limiting the right of Lebanese women to transmit Lebanese nationality in cases where the children had a foreign father? How would the Government ensure that all children born in Lebanon were able to acquire Lebanese nationality, in cases where they would otherwise be born into statelessness? There was no specific legal framework for stateless persons – this excluded them from enjoying certain rights because there was no reciprocal treatment.

In light of the Committee recommendations in paragraphs 27 and 28 of the previous concluding observations, Mr. Diaby was satisfied to note that Lebanese law considered any person born on Lebanese soil to parents of undetermined nationality, as Lebanese. What measures had Lebanon taken to remove all barriers to registering births and marriages for non-Lebanese persons? Were refugees and asylum seekers of nationalities other than Syrian able to access birth and marriage registration processes? Mr. Diaby called on Lebanon to amend the law of 1951 on personal status to ease the registration of births.

Updated information on measures taken to set out a clear legal framework on asylum, including the principle of non-refoulement, was requested. Detailed information to modify Lebanese law to facilitate access of refugees to Lebanese soil and ensure asylum seekers could access their rights, in particular with regards to housing, was also requested.

Were those who were due to be expelled from the country allowed to express their fear of cruel and degrading treatment in case of expulsion? How were they able to appeal that decision?

MARC BOSSUYT, Committee Member and Member of the Task Force for Lebanon, noted the Committee’s concern about curfew measures imposed on refugees, particularly on Syrian refugees. Control points at entrances and exits of refugee camps slowed down ambulances and were perceived as a humiliation by the refugees.

Lebanese law imposed an extra requirement for foreign nationals wishing to take cases to court, paying an extra amount before their case was heard, in order to prevent the abuse of the court system by foreign nationals.

Mr. Bossuyt reminded that the Committee noted that migrant domestic workers continued to be victims of discrimination and violence, often confined to the residency of their employer, and passports were withheld from them. There was a need to abolish the sponsorship system and the requirement to reside in the home of the employer. Many migrant workers lost their jobs following the Beirut port explosion, and thousands were unable to leave the country due to the pandemic, many living in unsanitary conditions.

The kafala system was a source of discrimination and violence; it must be abolished as it stood against the values of Lebanon.

IBRAHIMA GUISSÉ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lebanon, noted that the issue of refugees was central to most of the Committee’s concerns. The situation of Palestinian refugees was particularly concerning. Mr. Guisse asked for updated information on any efforts by Lebanon to promote and protect their rights. The situation of Syrian refugees held in detention centres was also concerning – what measures were being taken to punish those perpetrating crimes against them and to provide reparations to victims?

A high number of Syrian refugees had no legal residence permit, which did not allow them to earn a living legally, therefore many became involved in informal work. Procedures to provide permits, including to refugees, should be expedited.

Replies by the Delegation

SALIM BADDOURA, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that a power cut in Lebanon had prevented the delegation from hearing all the questions, also reminding the Committee that Lebanon was paying the price for its geographical location by hosting millions of refugees. It was important to safeguard the Lebanese identity as well, and some political measures to protect the citizens of the country had to be taken. The very peculiar situation faced by Lebanon, which no other country was experiencing, should be taken into account by the Committee.

The delegation said that the follow up mechanism set an objective to launch an update process on the common core document, based on recommendations issued by international treaty bodies. In 2019, a small cross-ministerial committee was set up for this purpose, however, due to the circumstances of last year, the update process was not accelerated. Nonetheless the mechanism was working to shortly publish the document.

Regarding the ability of Lebanese women to confer nationality to their children, several measures had been undertaken, with draft bills put forward to amend the nationality law to allow Lebanese women to pass nationality to their children in case the partner was not Lebanese. The Government in 2019 adopted the First National Action Plan to update legislation, providing a legal framework containing an amendment to the law on nationality. This amendment was not yet passed, but Lebanese women were able to exercise their rights. Qualified foreigners married to Lebanese women could apply for a resident permit. Many other measures assisting families of Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese nationals were being implemented.

Laws providing an appropriate and reasonable timeframe for birth registration applied to both Lebanese and non-Lebanese persons without discrimination. There were between 25,000 to 30,000 birth registration cases among Syrian refugees, as Lebanon had undertaken an awareness raising campaign among refugees to register their children so that they would have identification documents, also helping to enrol them into schools and kindergartens.

The Minister of Justice today requested information from all Lebanese courts regarding racial discrimination complaints, which the delegation hoped to receive soon and pass on to the Committee. The judicial system tried to give persons who entered Lebanon illegally an opportunity to regularise their situation and find a Lebanese sponsor, rather than arresting them. Women and children were only arrested in extreme situations. The Lebanese judicial system did not apply the additional fees universally to all foreigners who sought to bring cases to Lebanese courts, rather it was used only to make sure foreigners did not submit false claims before leaving the country. Legal aid and services for persons who had been sentenced were widespread, made possible in coordination with United Nations agencies in line with the United Nations Development Programme Plan for Lebanon that pursued model legal aid projects in the country.

A standard employment contract for domestic migrant workers was being utilised since 2009, protecting their rights and organising a contractual relationship in an equitable manner. A new standard unified contract for domestic migrant workers had been adopted by the Labour Ministry in 2020 but was unfortunately suspended by the Lebanese State Shura Council. A recent bill amended the current labour law to cover domestic workers, whether Lebanese or foreign, to subject them to the provisions of the law. The Ministry of Justice had activated a hotline for migrant domestic workers to complain about treatment and commence a dispute. Seventy-seven such complaints were addressed to the Ministry in 2020. Field visits to places where migrant domestic workers were concentrated had been undertaken in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration in order to monitor their health and assist their repatriation. Sexual harassment in the workplace was criminalised, and a national awareness campaign regarding this issue was being currently planned.

The Ministry of Labour decision 193 of 5 August 2017 provided a list of various documents needed for Palestinian refugees to obtain a work permit, which they were able to do. The Lebanese Government adopted a legal framework to protect refugees in 2003, signing a memo of understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ensuring temporary protection for refugees in Lebanon. Palestinian refugees had complete freedom of movement, whether in Lebanon or when going abroad. Inspection checkpoints were set up in only six of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps due to security considerations as they hosted dangerous persons who had infiltrated the camps. The number of checkpoints, and the number of security personnel staffing them, had been reduced to alleviate tension following complaints from refugees.

Since 2011, a significant number of refugee children had moved from one school to another during the same year due to the fact that their parents moved to search for job opportunities. Students were not discriminated against on the basis of nationality or residence status, and refugee students were particularly provided with psycho-social support, guidance and counselling. All refugees could file complaints in case they were refused enrolment, which was an extremely helpful process, especially at the start of the school year.

Follow-up Questions by Committee Members

IBRAHIMA GUISSÉ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lebanon, noted that the pandemic had continued to worsen the condition of migrants. What measures had been taken to guarantee refugees access to health, including to refugee children? How had Lebanon ensured equal access to treatment of COVID-19, including vaccines? A member of Parliament had proposed to exclude non-Lebanese nationals from compensation as a result of the port of Beirut explosion – what measures were being taken to ensure no discrimination in the distribution of compensation to all victims?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that a committee had been set up to respond to the pandemic in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the Ministry of Health and the Dialogue Committee. The Government, in cooperation with the United Nations, had increased funding for the health care sector, set up new health centres, and launched nationwide campaigns to provide free PCR tests for all. Lebanon was undertaking tremendous efforts to encourage refugees to register themselves on the COVAX platform so they could be vaccinated, but the registration was very low in comparison to Lebanese nationals. Free of charge vaccination centres to encourage refugees to vaccinate were being set up. Vaccination was open to all regardless of nationality, since the aim was to achieve herd immunity.

Regarding compensation provided to victims of the Beirut port explosion, the legal framework on compensation did not discriminate against anyone on the basis of nationality and it would be paid to all victims. A Parliament member did indeed request an amendment, but this was a draft bill that was not yet discussed in parliament.

Concluding Remarks

IBRAHIMA GUISSÉ, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Lebanon , welcomed the open and candid dialogue, commending the entire Lebanese delegation given the difficult context, particularly the power cuts in the country affecting their ability to hear all questions and to provide replies.

SALIM BADDOURA, Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that a major step forward was taken on the path of strengthening the fight against racial discrimination and racism in Lebanon in this meeting.

LI YANDUAN, Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of the Racial Discrimination, thanked the delegation and then closed the meeting.

 

CERD21.005E