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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.

b. Disappearance

There were no known reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year.

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.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, government officials subjected the judiciary to political pressure, particularly through negotiations among political factions regarding the appointment of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. As of December President Michel Aoun had still not signed a routine draft decree for judicial reassignments that had been with him since April 2020.

Defendants involved in routine civil and criminal proceedings sometimes solicited the assistance of prominent individuals to influence the outcomes of their cases.

Trial Procedures

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be promptly informed of the charges against them. Trials are generally public, but judges have the discretion to order a closed court session. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and to question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation; however, interpreters were rarely available. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; they have the right of appeal.

The Military Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the military, police, and government officials, as well as those involving civilians accused of espionage, treason, weapons possession, and draft evasion. It also may try civilians on security charges or for violations of the military code of justice. While civilian courts may try military personnel, the Military Court often heard these cases, including for charges unrelated to official military duty. Human rights activists raised concerns that such proceedings created the potential for impunity.

Governance and justice in Palestinian refugee camps varied greatly, with most camps under the control of joint Palestinian security forces representing multiple factions. Palestinian groups in refugee camps operated an autonomous system of justice mostly nontransparent to outsiders and beyond the control of the state. For example, local popular committees in the camps attempted to resolve disputes through informal mediation methods but occasionally transferred those accused of more serious offenses (for example, murder and terrorism) to state authorities for trial.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no known reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but plaintiffs seldom submitted civil lawsuits seeking damages for government human rights abuses. During the year there were no examples of a civil court awarding a person compensation for such abuses.

Property Seizure and Restitution

Municipalities and security services continued to evict Syrian refugees from informal settlements and other irregular housing. Evictions decreased in the second half of 2020 and the first half of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and general lockdowns; however, evictions increased starting in the third quarter of the year due to intercommunal tensions. While collective evictions due to security reasons and tensions continued to be reported, in most cases evictions were still ordered by Lebanese landlords, mostly due to nonpayment of rent, or for reappropriating land or property. Collective and individual evictions were implemented with only a limited opportunity for legal challenge.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, but there were reports that authorities interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government. There were reports that security services monitored private email and other digital correspondence. The law allows the interception of telephone calls with prior authorization from the prime minister at the request of the minister of interior or minister of defense.

Militias and non-Lebanese forces, such as Palestinian militant groups, operating outside the area of central government authority frequently violated citizens’ privacy rights. Various nonstate actors, such as Hizballah, used informer networks, telephone monitoring, and electronic monitoring to obtain information regarding their perceived adversaries.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, which may result in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and noncitizen father who may not transmit his own citizenship (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons). If a child’s birth is not registered within the first year, the process for legitimizing the birth is long and costly, often deterring families from registration. Syrian refugees no longer need legal residency to register the birth of their children. Authorities also waived several requirements for late birth registration by Syrian refugees. Birth registration remained inaccessible to some because the government required proof of legal residence and legal marriage, documentation often unavailable to refugees.

Education: Education for citizens is free and compulsory through the primary phase. Noncitizen and stateless children, including those born of noncitizen fathers and citizen mothers and refugees, lacked this right. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education directed that non-Lebanese students could not outnumber Lebanese in any given classroom during the regular school shift, which sometimes limited enrollment. Syrian refugee children were not legally entitled to enroll in public schools at regular hours, although they could attend schools’ second shifts.

Educational institutions reported that, due to the economic crisis, the depreciation of the Lebanese pound, and lack of funding, some schools were forced to close during the year. In addition, many teachers were either laid off or resigned. According to the Syndicate of Private School Teachers, every school in the country lost between 10 to 40 teachers during the year.

Child Abuse: The country lacked a comprehensive child protection law, although legal provisions furnished some protection to children who were victims of violence.

The Ministry of Social Affairs has a hotline to report cases of child abuse. In a typical example from 2020, representatives of a local shelter for abused women and children described the case of a father who sexually and physically abused a child in the shelter’s care. According to the organization, the father escaped punishment through religious courts, as many families chose to handle such cases through these courts rather than the national justice system.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: There is no legal minimum age for marriage, and the government does not perform civil marriage. Most religious leaders oppose civil marriage, despite the law recognizing heterosexual civil marriages conducted outside the country. Each sect has its own religious courts governing matters of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. The minimum age of marriage varies from ages 14 to 18, depending on the sect. UN agencies, NGOs, and government officials noted high rates of early marriage among the Syrian refugee population, in some cases four times the rate of child marriage as before the conflict began. They partially attributed this circumstance to social and economic pressure on families with limited resources.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits and punishes commercial sexual exploitation, child pornography, and child sex trafficking. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 for both men and women, and statutory rape penalties include hard labor for a minimum of five years and a minimum of seven years’ imprisonment if the victim is younger than 15 years old. The government generally enforced the law.

Displaced Children: Some refugee children lived and worked on the street. In view of the poor economic environment, limited freedom of movement, and little opportunity for livelihoods for adults, many Syrian refugee families often relied on children to earn money for the family, including by begging or selling small items in the streets. Refugee children were at greater risk than Lebanese children for exploitation, gender-based violence, and child labor since they had greater freedom of movement compared to their parents, who often lacked residency permits. Some refugee children and the children of foreign domestic workers also faced obstacles to equal treatment under the law. NGOs reported discrimination against them, including bullying linked to race, skin color, religion, and nationality, although some could attend public school.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated enrollment of almost 200,000 non-Lebanese children in the 2019-20 academic year. More than one-half of refugee children ages three to 18 were out of school, according to UNHCR. The government and some NGOs offered several informal education programs to eligible students.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

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