Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions
Lebanon, with a population of approximately 4 million people, is a parliamentary republic in which the president (head of state) is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the chamber of deputies a Shia Muslim. In May 2008, after rescheduling the presidential election 19 times, parliament elected Michel Sleiman to a six-year presidential term. The president's eventual election by consensus was facilitated by the Arab League in Qatar following clashes initiated by Hizballah. The country is currently preparing for parliamentary elections on June 7, 2009.
There were limitations on the right of citizens to change their government peacefully. Militant and sectarian groups committed unlawful killings, and security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals. Torture of detainees remained a problem, as did poor prison conditions, lengthy pretrial detention, and long delays in the court system. Journalists faced intimidation, and there was an attack on a major media outlet. Government corruption and a lack of transparency continue to be issues of concern. Domestic violence, discrimination against women, refugees, and Palestinians, trafficking in persons, and child labor were common.
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
Following nearly three decades of Syrian occupation and civil conflict in Lebanon, the U.S. Government's objective in the country is to help Lebanon uphold its sovereignty and independence and maintain respect for human rights and democratic principles. The United States focuses on supporting the country's stability through its governmental institutions, which exercise control over its territory in the face of extremism and the threat posed by Hizballah. Due to political events that have hampered the U.S. Government's ability to work with certain national institutions, the United States has emphasized strengthening municipal governments throughout the country and helping them to increase transparency. The United States works with the government and international allies to support the goals outlined in UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, and it partners with a coalition of international entities to support programs promoting economic, fiscal, political, and judicial transparency and reform.
The United States has a multi-year strategy to promote electoral reform in the country, and some minor improvements were codified into law in September 2008. U.S. officials will devote considerable attention to support local efforts to ensure that the 2009 parliamentary elections are free and fair, avoid violence or intimidation, and reflect the independent will of the people. The U.S. Government will continue to promote civil society appeals for additional electoral reforms before the 2010 municipal elections. Finally, the United States prioritizes the strengthening of civil society organizations to develop leaders adept at advocating for their communities' needs. Because the country's constitution provides for a confessional system of government that distributes power among religious communities, the United States funds initiatives designed to support civil society organizations that promote cross-confessional activities.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
In preparation for the 2009 parliamentary elections, the U.S. embassy formed an Electoral Reform Working Group with local NGOs and program partners to coordinate efforts on electoral reform. The embassy also coordinates with international donors to help build the government's capacity to hold elections in accordance with international electoral standards and the new electoral law. The U.S. Government continues to advocate for electoral reforms that will enhance stability in the country.
The U.S. Government manages several programs to strengthen Lebanon's government institutions. For example, the United States provides training and technical support to the judiciary in drafting legislation. The United States also funds programs to improve the country's judicial process, including the appeals system. The U.S. Government works to increase Lebanese Government officials' professionalism, effectiveness, and accountability at all levels, including the 800 municipal governments, to facilitate delivery of state services to citizens. U.S. officials advocate for local employees to be hired based on merit, not confessional ties or personal connections. The U.S. Government provides significant funds for training, equipment, and support to the Internal Security Forces and Lebanese Armed Forces to enhance the professionalism of these national institutions.
The U.S. Government works to improve citizens' ability to participate in the decision-making processes. Other U.S. initiatives and programs promote religious freedom and help improve women's rights and status. To promote religious freedom, U.S. officials meet regularly with religious leaders and members of the Council on Religious Understanding. U.S. officials emphasize the importance of protecting the freedoms of speech and press and note the critical role of journalists in advancing democracy and human rights.
The United States supports programs that seek to improve the plight of trafficking victims and improve labor practices. For example, U.S. funds support NGOs and social workers who interview victims and screen and refer trafficking cases to the country's judiciary for prosecution. The United States continues its financial support of the only government-run safe house in Beirut for trafficking and forced labor victims. U.S. officials encourage labor leaders to engage in dialogue with the private sector and government to promote reforms, and the U.S. Government sends labor union leaders to train with U.S. unions on labor organization, labor law, and workers' rights.