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Lebanon

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were reports by human rights groups asserting that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing.

On January 25, large-scale demonstrations erupted for three consecutive nights in Tripoli, leading to violent clashes between protesters and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF). The Lebanese Red Cross, ISF, and media reported that one protester died when he was hit by live fire and that 226 were injured. International NGOs and human rights activists claimed authorities used excessive force, including the use of live ammunition. Killings by security forces are investigated internally and prosecuted through the Military Court. The military prosecutor charged 35 individuals, including two minors, with terrorism, forming criminal associations, stealing public property, using force against and trying to kill members of the security forces, arson, vandalism, and protesting without permission. All detainees were later released. According to the LAF’s leadership, no organizations or individuals filed formal complaints of torture with the LAF or the judiciary. The LAF conducted an internal investigation into the allegations of abuse and mistreatment of protesters by LAF members, but findings from the investigation have yet to be released.

On February 4, Lokman Slim, a prominent political activist and vocal Hizballah critic, was found dead in his car in the southern village of Addousieh in an apparent assassination, from multiple bullet wounds. Investigations were ongoing at year’s end.

On August 1, armed clashes erupted between Hizballah supporters and members of the Arab tribes of the Khaldeh neighborhood during the funeral procession of Hizballah member Ali Chebli, who was killed the night before in an apparent vendetta shooting. Media reported that five individuals, including three Hizballah members, were killed. The LAF subsequently intervened and warned that it would open fire on any gunman in the area; the LAF was able to restore order in Khaldeh by August 2.

The state prosecutor requested an investigation to determine whether security force actions were justifiable in the April 2020 death of a protester who died after being hit in the leg by a rubber bullet by a LAF officer during a protest in Tripoli. The investigation was ongoing by a Military Court with no further information available at year’s end. The LAF maintained that the rubber bullet was shot from more than 15 yards away and at an angle acceptable under LAF regulations.

In August 2020 the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) announced its verdict in the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, which also killed 21 others and injured 226. The STL found Hizballah operative Salim Jamil Ayyash guilty on all charges, while Hizballah operatives Hassan Habib Merhi, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra were acquitted. In December 2020 the STL sentenced Ayyash to five concurrent terms of life imprisonment, the maximum punishment allowed. The STL’s mandate was renewed in March for a further period of two years or until the exhaustion of available funds. Its work may continue for several more years to handle record keeping, sentencing, and possible appeals.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits using acts of violence to obtain a confession or information about a crime, but the judiciary rarely investigated or prosecuted allegations of torture. In 2019 the cabinet appointed the five members of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) against Torture, a body within the 10-member National Human Rights Institute (NHRI). The NHRI is mandated to monitor the human rights situation in the country by reviewing laws, decrees, and administrative decisions and by investigating complaints of human rights abuses and issuing periodic reports of its findings. The NPM oversees implementation of the antitorture law. It has the authority to conduct regular unannounced visits to all places of detention, investigate the use of torture, and issue recommendations to improve the treatment of detainees. As of December the NHRI had not begun its assigned functions. Some NGOs alleged that security officials tortured detainees, including incidents of abuse at certain police stations. The government denied the systematic use of torture, although authorities acknowledged violent abuse sometimes occurred during pretrial detention at police stations or military installations where officials interrogated suspects without an attorney present.

The LAF Investigation Branch began an internal investigation in May 2020 into the alleged torture of detainees in LAF detention facilities in Sidon and Tripoli following protests in those cities. The investigation was suspended due to a lack of formal allegations from the victims and because the original investigating judge resigned from his position. Cases remained open for both facilities as of December.

The LAF imposed the highest penalties allowed by the military code of justice in several cases involving torture, while noting that only a judicial decision could move punishment beyond administrative penalties.

Although human rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) organizations acknowledged some improvements in detainee treatment during the year, these organizations and former detainees also reported that ISF officers mistreated drug users, persons involved in commercial sex, and LGBTQI+ individuals in custody, particularly outside of Beirut, including through forced HIV testing, threats of prolonged detention, and threats to expose their identities to family or friends. LGBTQI+ rights NGOs reported forced anal exams of men suspected of same-sex sexual activity have been banned in Beirut police stations but were carried out in Tripoli and other cities. While physician syndicates in Beirut banned their members from performing such procedures, NGOs stated that local syndicates outside the capital had not all done so.

NGOs reported impunity was a significant problem in the security forces, including the ISF, LAF, and Parliamentary Police Force (PPF). Impunity was also a problem with respect to the actions of armed nonstate actors, such as Hizballah. ISF and LAF impunity was due in part to a lack of transparency when these forces conducted investigations. Investigations of alleged abuses by security forces were conducted internally by the implicated security force, and security force members could be tried in Military Court for charges unrelated to their official duties (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures). Individuals allegedly belonging to the PPF were captured in photographs and on video shooting live ammunition at protesters during the August 2020 protests. PPF personnel were recorded in several other instances beating protesters, with no known repercussions. The foreign terrorist organization (FTO) Hizballah continued the practice of extrajudicial arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures).

The LAF, ISF, and the Directorate of General Security (DGS) have new codes of conduct that they developed and implemented in 2020 with the help of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to promote respect and protection of human rights and introduce accountability elements. The ISF gendarmerie unit also instituted a training program that included human rights training with the support of donor countries.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention centers were often overcrowded, and prisoners sometimes lacked access to basic sanitation. As was true for most buildings in the country, prison facilities were inadequately equipped for persons with disabilities.

Nongovernmental entities such as FTO Hizballah and Palestinian nonstate militias also reportedly operated unofficial detention facilities.

Physical Conditions: As of September 10, there were approximately 7,401 prisoners and detainees, including pretrial detainees and remanded prisoners, in facilities built to hold 3,500 inmates. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. There were 110 minors and 207 women held in prisons, according to ISF statistics. The ISF incarcerated women at three dedicated women’s prisons in Baabda, Beirut, and Tripoli.

According to a government official, most prisons lacked adequate sanitation, ventilation, and lighting, and authorities did not regulate temperatures consistently. In Roumieh prison groups of prisoners often slept in rooms originally built for many fewer persons, and basic medical care suffered from inadequate staffing, poor working conditions, and extreme overcrowding. The ISF reported that 19 individuals died in detention facilities during the year. According to the ISF, 18 prisoners died of medical problems, including heart attacks, cancer, and COVID-19, and one committed suicide. Some NGOs complained of authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care to prisoners, which may have contributed to some deaths. The ISF reported that none died of police abuse.

Administration: The ISF’s Committee to Monitor against the Use of Torture and Other Inhuman Practices in Prisons and Detention Centers conducted 30 prison visits as of September 2020. These monitoring visits were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If detention center investigators assigned by the minister of interior found physical abuse, the military investigator assigned a medical team to confirm the abuse, and a judge ruled at the conclusion of the review. As of September 2020 there were no complaints reported to the ISF committee. Historically, complaints were generally submitted during or following in-person prison visits by family members. In-person visits were halted in February 2020 due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts and did not restart during the year. As of October 2020, prisoners submitted 12 complaints to the ISF Human Rights Department. According to the ISF Human Rights Department, the ISF took disciplinary action against officers it found responsible for abuse or mistreatment, including dismissals, but it did not publicize this information. The ISF reported that five ISF officers were punished for not informing suspects of their rights upon detention per article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedures.

Most investigations were initiated by prisoners’ family members contacting the Ministry of Interior to report complaints, although prison directors could also initiate investigations. Prisoners and detainees can report abuse directly to the ISF Human Rights Department. According to a government official, prison directors often protected officers under investigation.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison and detention conditions by local and international human rights groups and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and such monitoring took place. The ICRC regularly visited 16 prisons and detention centers and visited a further 12 on an ad hoc basis.

Improvements: ISF training and corrections staff institutionalized best practices to protect human rights through developing and implementing standard operating procedures and modifying hiring practices and training programs to improve professionalization among new officers. During the year an NGO renovated the Nabatieh prison in South Lebanon, and ICRC worked to improve the electrical network in Roumieh prison. The World Health Organization (WHO) equipped a special room for medical examinations in Roumieh prison. In addition, the United Nations provided and equipped a prefabricated trailer to conduct trials via Zoom. The government undertook the renovation of several detention centers across the country. Prisoners gained access to potable water in Roumieh prison following the completion of a 2019 ICRC construction project. Prisoners in other prisons gradually achieved access to potable water as the result of an agreement signed by the Rotary Club and the Directorate General of the ISF in 2020, which resulted in the installation of filters in existing water tanks.

Overcrowding in detention facilities raised fears of COVID-19 outbreaks within the detention centers, particularly in the notoriously overcrowded Roumieh prison. The ISF ensured early and sustained use of masks, gloves, detergents, and temperature checks and limited visits for inmates. The ISF identified buildings at Roumieh prison as quarantine sites for inmates transferred to the prison and for existing inmates in the prison who showed COVID-19 symptoms. In September 2020 more than 200 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 in Roumieh prison, prompting social media allegations of “rioting” in the prisons and media coverage of inmate families protesting outside the justice palace. The ISF quarantined and treated COVID-19 patients, including daily testing of inmates and staff to identify and track cases.

The judiciary approved the use of a modernized but previously unused courtroom at Roumieh prison to expedite the processing of Mount Lebanon criminal cases by reducing the need to transport prisoners to court hearings. Since March authorities allowed those detained for minor, nonviolent offenses to be released after the ISF brought their cases to public prosecutors over the telephone or through video chat. Prosecutors dropped charges against some detainees following virtual reviews, while others were expected to face trial eventually but would not be kept in pretrial detention.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. The law requires judicial warrants before arrests except in cases of active pursuit. Nonetheless, NGOs and civil society groups alleged some incidents of the government arbitrarily arresting and detaining individuals, particularly protesters, refugees, and migrant workers. Typically, these detentions were for short periods and related to administrative questions associated with the residency or work status of these populations, often lasting between several hours and one or more days.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides the right to a medical examination and referral to a prosecutor within 48 hours of arrest. The law requires that officials promptly inform individuals of the charges against them, and authorities generally adhered to this requirement. If authorities hold a detainee longer than 48 hours without formal charges, the arrest is considered arbitrary, and authorities must release the detainee or request a formal extension. The law provides that a person may be held in police custody for investigation for up to 48 hours, unless the investigation requires additional time, in which case the period of custody may be renewed for another 48 hours.

The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges filed against them. A suspect caught in the act of committing a crime must be referred to an examining judge, who decides whether to issue an indictment or order the release of the suspect. By law, bail is available in all cases regardless of the charges, although the amounts required may be prohibitively high.

The law states that from the moment of arrest, a suspect or the subject of a complaint has the right to contact a member of their family, an attorney, their employer, or an advocate of their choosing; has the right to an interpreter if needed; and has the right to undergo a medical examination on the approval of the general prosecutor. It does not, however, explicitly state whether a lawyer may attend preliminary questioning with the judicial police. In practical terms the lawyer may or may not be allowed to attend the preliminary questioning with judicial police. Under the framework of the law, it is possible to hold a suspect at a police station for 48 hours, renewable for another 48 hours upon an approval of the general prosecutor, before allowing the individual to exercise the right to contact an attorney. If the suspect lacks the resources to obtain legal counsel, authorities must provide free legal aid. The law does not require the judicial police to inform an individual who lacks legal counsel that one may be assigned through the regional bar association.

The law does not require authorities to inform individuals they have the right to remain silent. Many law provisions simply state that if the individuals being questioned refuse to make a statement or remain silent, this should be recorded and that the detainees may not be “coerced to speak or to undergo questioning, on pain of nullity of their statements.”

The law excludes from this protection suspects accused of homicide, drug crimes, endangerment of state security, violent crimes, crimes involving terrorism, and those with a previous criminal conviction.

Authorities may prosecute officials responsible for prolonged arrest on charges of depriving personal freedom, but in practice they rarely filed charges.

Authorities failed to observe many provisions of the law, and government security forces as well as armed nonstate actors such as Hizballah continued the practice of extrajudicial arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention. Additionally, the law permits military intelligence personnel to make arrests without warrants in cases involving military personnel or involving civilians suspected of espionage, treason, weapons possession, or terrorism.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to local NGOs, cases of arbitrary arrest occurred, but most victims chose not to report violations committed against them to authorities. NGOs reported most cases involved vulnerable groups such as refugees, drug users, LGBTQI+ individuals, and migrant workers who often feared retribution by authorities while having limited access to legal recourse. Civil society groups reported authorities frequently detained foreign nationals arbitrarily.

In June 2020 the Mount Lebanon public prosecutor pressed charges against Shia cleric Sayyed Ali al-Amine, accusing him of stirring sectarian strife and criticizing religious rituals. Media initially reported that al-Amine was charged with meeting Israeli officials during a conference in Bahrain, stirring public sentiment against him, but news outlets later stated this was reported in error. There were no reports of any progress on the case as of December.

Pretrial Detention: The law states the period of detention for a misdemeanor may not exceed two months. Officials may extend this period by a maximum of two additional months. For felonies, the initial period of custody may not exceed six months, but the detention may be renewed. Due to judicial backlogs, pretrial detention periods for felonies sometimes lasted for months or years.

Pretrial detention periods were often lengthy due to delays in due process, in some cases equal to or exceeding the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. As of October the ISF reported 3,700 prisoners in pretrial detention, or approximately 50 percent of the 7,401 total detainees. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and closure of many courts, judges were instructed by the then minister of justice to conduct investigations and hearings via video calls to expedite the judicial process as well as to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among pretrial detainees, lawyers, and judges. This resulted in the release of 1,200 detainees as of May 2020 and a sustained significant decrease in the overall number of pretrial detainees. According to a study by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, before May detainees spent on average one year in pretrial detention prior to sentencing, although those suspected of terrorism, espionage, and violent homicide were often held much longer. According to local NGOs, some Lebanese Sunni militants who had fought in Syria with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra were detained after returning in 2014 and had remained in pretrial detention for more than five years.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, lack of government control over parts of the country, defects in the electoral process, previous prolonged extensions of parliament’s mandate, and corruption in public office restricted this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following the passage of a new electoral law in 2018, parliamentary elections were held that year for the first time in nine years. Observers concluded that the elections were generally free and fair. In 2020 eight members of parliament resigned following the August 4 Beirut port explosion, and three passed away. According to the constitution, parliamentary by-elections must be held within 60 days of resignation or death to fill vacant seats, but by-elections never occurred. Parliamentary elections were scheduled for May 15, 2022, and a presidential election was anticipated sometime between August and October 2022.

Political Parties and Political Participation: All major political parties and numerous smaller ones were almost exclusively based on confessional affiliation, and parliamentary seats were allotted on a sectarian basis.

Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. There were, however, significant cultural barriers to women’s participation in politics. Prior to 2004 no woman held a cabinet position, and there have only been 14 female ministers subsequently, including one sitting minister. One woman became the country’s first female deputy prime minister, minister of defense, and acting minister of foreign affairs and emigrants in 2020. Six of the 128 members of parliament were women; however, one of them resigned her seat in August. Several female members of parliament were close relatives of prominent male politicians, and female leadership of political parties was limited. Three parties introduced voluntary quotas for women. Since 2017 women have been able to run in municipal elections in their native towns instead of the municipality of their spouse.

On October 19, parliament failed to pass a law establishing a quota for women for the 2022 parliamentary elections and instead referred it back to the parliamentary committees for further discussions. There was no further action by the end of the year.

Members of minority groups participated in politics. Regardless of the number of its adherents, authorities allocated every government-recognized religious group, except Ismaili Islam and Judaism, at least one seat in parliament. Voters elected three parliamentarians representing minorities (one Syriac Orthodox Christian and two Alawites) in the 2018 elections. None of the minority parliamentarians were women.

Since refugees are not citizens, they have no political rights in the country.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The country suffers from endemic corruption. Although the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government has not implemented the law effectively, and officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity on a wide scale. Government and security officials, customs agents, and members of the judiciary were subject to laws against bribery and extortion, but the lack of strong enforcement limited the law’s effectiveness.

In May 2020 parliament approved a law lifting the secrecy of bank accounts of sitting and former ministers, parliamentarians, and civil servants. The law gives power to the Special Investigation Commission of the Central Bank and the National Anticorruption Commission to investigate corruption cases against these groups.

In September 2020 the government signed a contract with an accounting firm to conduct forensic and financial audits of the Central Bank’s accounts, but the auditor withdrew in November 2020 over a political impasse related to obtaining financial records. The auditor signed a new contract with the government on September 17.

The Central Inspection Board (CIB), an oversight body within the Office of the Prime Minister, is responsible for monitoring administrative departments, including procurement and financial actions, and remained mostly independent of political interference. The CIB may inspect national and municipal government employees and has the authority to seek their removal or refer cases for prosecution. The CIB’s authority does not extend to cabinet ministers or to municipal officials. The Social Security Fund and the Council for Development and Reconstruction, public entities that managed large funding flows, were outside the CIB’s jurisdiction.

In the wake of the massive Beirut port explosion in August 2020, which many citizens blamed on systemic government corruption and negligence, tens of thousands of protesters demanded the resignation of the second government in less than a year, ousting of the political elite, and accountability for the port disaster. The judge leading the inquiry into the explosion paused the investigation under political pressure after he pursued indictments against several current and former high-ranking officials, before being dismissed from the case on February 18. The new judge assigned on February 19 was also forced to pause the investigation on September 27 under political pressure. The investigation resumed, however, following rulings by the Court of Appeals on October 4 and November 4, and the Court of Cassation on October 11 and 14, which rejected protests from the three politicians under investigation. Media sources continued to report that political interference has delayed the investigation.

There was contention between politicians and judges on whether elected government officials suspected of criminal activity should be tried in the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers or in normal criminal courts. This divisive matter has also delayed the Beirut port explosion investigation.

Corruption: The government continued to lack control over corruption. There was limited parliamentary or auditing oversight of revenue collection and expenditures. Various government initiatives intended to limit corruption were not successful. Parliament approved the public procurement law on June 30, which was intended to improve transparency and promote open tendering in the public procurement process. In April 2020 parliament endorsed the anticorruption law and approved the establishment of the Anticorruption Commission. In May 2020 the government approved the Anticorruption National Strategy drafted by the Ministry of Administrative Reform and the UN Development Program. During the mass protests that began in October 2019 and continued to varying degrees during the year, demonstrators accused the government and public sector of widespread endemic corruption, lack of transparency, and limited accountability, all of which generated popular outrage. Within the first month of protests in 2019, there was an uptick in the number of corruption-related investigations and prosecution actions, but no verdicts were reached in any cases involving high-ranking officials during the year.

The most common types of corruption generally included political patronage; judicial failures, especially in investigations of official wrongdoing; and bribery at multiple levels within the national and municipal governments. Several cases were referred to the judiciary, including one involving off-speculation fuel oil purchased by the national electricity utility. Ministers and directors general were questioned, and more than 20 individuals were indicted in that case. On February 23, financial prosecutors pressed money-laundering charges against foreign exchange dealers and forwarded the case to an investigative judge. Investigations were ongoing at year’s end. On April 7, a prosecutor pressed charges against Central Bank governor Riad Salameh, Chairman of the Societe General Banque du Liban Antoun Sehnaoui, Michel Mecattaf from Mecattaf company, and Central Bank Banking Control Commission president Maya Dabbagh based on suspect transfers of large sums by the bank leading to the depreciation of the pound. The case was referred to an investigative judge and was ongoing as of December.

On April 29, the Prosecutor General launched an investigation against Salameh after a Swiss legal request alleged that more than two billion Lebanese pounds ($300 million) were embezzled from the bank through a company owned by his brother, Raja. On August 1, a judge questioned Salameh on charges of money laundering, embezzlement, forgery, tax evasion, and illicit enrichment. The case was ongoing. France also launched a parallel investigation into charges of aggravated money laundering in May.

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