Lebanon is a parliamentary republic based on the 1943 National Pact, which apportions governmental authority among a Maronite Christian president, a Shia speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament), and a Sunni prime minister. The law officially recognizes 18 religious sects or confessions. In 2016 parliament elected Michel Aoun to the presidency, ending more than two years of political deadlock. Following the 2017 passage of the new electoral law, the government held parliamentary elections in 2018 after parliament had extended its legal term three times between 2013 and 2017. The elections were peaceful and considered generally free and fair. Following weeks of mass protests, then prime minister Saad Hariri resigned in October 2019, and a new government under Prime Minister Hassan Diab was formed on January 22. After a devastating explosion on August 4 at the Port of Beirut killed more than 200 persons and injured more than 6,500 others, triggering another wave of street protests, Diab resigned August 10. On August 31, Mustapha Adib was designated prime minister, but on September 26, he resigned after failing to form a cabinet. On October 22, former prime minister Saad Hariri was again designated as prime minister to form a new cabinet, but the government formation process continued at year’s end.
The Internal Security Forces, under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for law enforcement. The Directorate of General Security, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for border control but also exercises some domestic security responsibilities. The Lebanese Armed Forces, under the Ministry of Defense, are responsible for external security but are authorized to arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds. The Lebanese Armed Forces also arrested alleged drug traffickers, managed protests, enforced building codes related to refugee shelters, and intervened to prevent violence between rival political factions. The General Directorate of State Security, reporting to the prime minister through the Higher Defense Council, is responsible for investigating espionage and other national security matters. The Parliamentary Police Force reports to the speaker of parliament and is tasked with protecting parliament premises as well as the speaker’s residence in Ain al-Tineh. Both the Internal Security Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces provide units to the Parliamentary Police Force. Civilian authorities maintained control over the government’s armed forces and other security forces, although Palestinian security and militia forces, the designated foreign terrorist organization Hizballah, and other extremist elements operated outside the direction or control of government officials. Members of security forces committed some abuses.
The Syrian conflict affected the country economically and socially. Over the past nine years, the conflict has generated an influx of more than one million Syrian refugees and strained the country’s already weak infrastructure and ability to deliver social services.
Significant human rights issues included: allegations of torture by security forces; arbitrary arrest or detention, including excessive periods of pretrial detention by security forces; serious political interference with the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of laws criminalizing libel; refoulement of refugees; high-level and widespread official corruption; and criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex status or conduct.
Although the legal structure provides for prosecution and punishment of officials who committed human rights abuses, enforcement remained a problem, and government officials enjoyed a measure of impunity for human rights abuses, including evading or influencing judicial processes. The country suffers from endemic corruption.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports of one instance in which human rights groups asserted that the government or its agents committed an arbitrary or unlawful killing. International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and local media reported that on April 27 the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) used excessive force, including lethal force, against protesters in Tripoli. One protester died after being hit in the leg by a rubber bullet. The LAF issued a statement in which it expressed regret and announced it had opened an investigation. The LAF maintained that the rubber bullet was shot from a distance of more than 15 yards and at an angle acceptable under LAF regulations. The state prosecutor requested an investigation to determine whether security force actions were justifiable and pursued prosecution at the Military Court that continued as of September 8 (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment). Killings by security forces are investigated internally and prosecuted through the Military Court.
On August 20, Amal party supporter Hussein Khalil was killed and 10 others were injured in a confrontation between Amal and Hizballah supporters in the southern town of Loubye. On August 19, Amal members angered by Hizballah banners commemorating the Shia holiday of Ashura had harassed a local Hizballah-aligned sheikh, resulting in a larger brawl on August 20 that led both sides to discharge automatic firearms. The LAF subsequently intervened to restore security and demanded that both groups surrender members who had drawn weapons.
On August 18, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) announced its verdict in the 2005 killing of former prime minister Rafik Hariri that 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. On December 11, the STL sentenced Ayyash to five concurrent terms of life imprisonment, the maximum punishment allowed. If the STL’s mandate is renewed in March 2021, its work may continue for several more years to handle sentencing and possible appeals, in addition to proceeding with a trial in the so-called connected cases–the killing of George Hawi and attempted killings of Marwan Hamadeh and Elias Murr.
There were no 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 March 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 September 8, 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 conducted an internal investigation that began May 6 into the alleged torture of detainees in LAF detention facilities in Sidon and Tripoli following protests in those cities. The investigations were suspended due to the lack of formal allegations from the victims and because the original investigating judge resigned from his position; the cases remained open as of October 19. 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.
There were no new developments in the May 2019 death of detainee Hassan Diqa, although the case remained under investigation and on the agenda of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee. Diqa’s family filed a lawsuit claiming Diqa was subjected to torture in detention, leading to his death. Diqa had been arrested in 2018 on a drug-related charge. As of September 2019, there was no clear evidence that Diqa’s death was a result of torture, although evidence emerged that proper procedures in accordance with the antitorture law were not followed.
On October 15, an investigative judge questioned actor Ziad Itani regarding a criminal defamation complaint filed against him by two State Security officials he had accused of torturing him. Itani had stated that State Security tortured him in 2017 after detaining him on false charges of spying for Israel, a charge of which he was eventually exonerated.
Although human rights and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) organizations acknowledged some improvements in detainee treatment during the year, these organizations and former detainees continued to report that Internal Security Forces (ISF) officers mistreated drug users, persons involved in prostitution, and LGBTI 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. LGBTI rights NGOs reported 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 that 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. With regard to the ISF and LAF, this 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 on August 8. 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 worked with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to develop a code of conduct on human rights that was launched in January. The ISF and the Directorate of General Security (DGS) both worked with the OHCHR to revise their respective codes of conduct, introduce accountability elements, and provide for wider dissemination of the codes of conduct among their personnel. The gendarmerie unit of the ISF 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 the FTO Hizballah and Palestinian nonstate militias, also reportedly operated unofficial detention facilities.
Physical Conditions: As of September 14, there were approximately 6,670 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 150 minors and 224 women in Lebanese prisons, according to ISF statistics. The ISF incarcerated women at four dedicated women’s prisons in Baabda, Beirut, Zahle, and Tripoli.
According to a government official, most prisons lacked adequate sanitation, ventilation, and lighting, and authorities did not regulate temperatures consistently. Roumieh prisoners often slept 10 in a room originally built to accommodate two prisoners, and basic medical care suffered from inadequate staffing, poor working conditions, and extreme overcrowding. The ISF reported that seven individuals died in detention facilities during the year. According to the ISF, six died of medical problems, including heart attacks and kidney failure, and one was accidently electrocuted due to faulty wiring. 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 14. These monitoring visits were suspended due to the outbreak of 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 14, 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 due to COVID-19 concerns and mitigation efforts, and did not restart during the year. As of October 14, prisoners submitted 12 complaints to the ISF Human Rights Department. The ISF began immediate investigations into the complaints that continued as of October 14. According to the ISF Human Rights Unit, in the course of its own investigations, the ISF took disciplinary action against officers it found responsible for abuse or mistreatment, including dismissals, but it did not publicize this information.
In 2018 authorities arrested an ISF prison officer on charges of sexual abuse of an inmate. The case continued as of October 19, but no additional details were available.
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 have the ability to report abuse directly to the ISF Human Rights Unit. 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. Prisoners gained access to potable water in Roumieh prison following the completion of a 2019 ICRC project of building a new water well and water plant. 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 during the year that 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 immediate, early, and sustained use of masks, gloves, detergents, 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. On September 17, 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 took immediate action to quarantine and treat COVID-19 patients, including daily testing of inmates and staff to identify and track cases. The ISF also designated one building in Roumieh prison as a quarantine and treatment area for mild cases and transported severe cases to Daher El Bachek Government Hospital’s security wing.
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 as was previously the norm. Authorities halted use of the courtroom on September 18 after the first positive COVID-19 cases in the prison.
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 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 detention occurred, but most victims chose not to report violations against them to authorities. NGOs reported most cases involved vulnerable groups such as refugees, drug users, LGBTI 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.
On June 23, 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 the news outlets later stated this was reported in error. The case had not progressed as of October 19.
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. The initial period of custody may not exceed six months for a felony, 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 3,703 prisoners in pretrial detention, or approximately 55 percent of the 6,670 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 coronavirus among pretrial detainees, lawyers, and judges. This resulted in the release of 1,200 detainees as of May 15 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 were detained after returning from fighting in Syria remained in pretrial detention for more than five years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, authorities subjected the judiciary to political pressure, particularly through negotiations among political factions regarding the appointment of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. As of September 8, President Aoun had not signed a routine draft decree for judicial reassignments that had been with him since April 16.
Defendants involved in routine civil and criminal proceedings sometimes solicited the assistance of prominent individuals to influence the outcomes of their cases.
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 hears 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 the Palestinian 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 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. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions.
The country has registered reservations regarding individual complaints on all international human rights treaties, and appeals to international human rights bodies or special procedures such as the Committee Against Torture are accessible only after exhausting all domestic remedies. In May 2019 a coalition of NGOs sent a submission to the special rapporteur on freedom of speech concerning the Ministry of Telecommunications’ blocking of Grindr, to which the government did not reply during the year.
During the year while municipalities and security services continued to evict Syrian refugees from informal settlements on private land, in most cases evictions were ordered by the Lebanese landlord, most often due to nonpayment of rent, for reappropriating the land or property, or in connection with intercommunity tensions. While evictions generally cited violations of building codes, environmental codes, or both, collective and individual evictions proceeded without any opportunity for legal challenge. On June 8, the Litani River Authority (LRA) instructed 42 Syrian refugees living in an informal settlement in Nabatieh, South Lebanon, to relocate farther away from the river. The following day the LRA returned with an ISF escort and demolished the shelters without providing advance notice or allowing the families to collect their belongings before demolition began.
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 operating outside the area of central government authority frequently violated citizens’ privacy rights. Various nonstate actors, such as the FTO Hizballah, used informer networks, telephone monitoring, and electronic monitoring to obtain information regarding their perceived adversaries.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but a coalition of 60 NGOs cited in July what they characterized as an upward trend in restrictions on freedom of expression, especially on social media, particularly regarding political and social topics.
Freedom of Speech: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limit this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the security forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute.
On January 7, the ISF Cybercrimes Bureau questioned journalist and activist Nidal Ayoub in relation to posters she carried during protests with slogans such as, “God is great but the revolution is greater.” Ayoub was previously the subject of a smear campaign in December 2019 during which she was accused of working for Israel and a U.S. intelligence agency; she faced numerous threats and insults after her address was released on social media. In response Ayoub filed a defamation lawsuit against the alleged instigator of the smear campaign, who has yet to be called for questioning. The alleged instigator responded by filing a countersuit accusing Ayoub of having attacked the president, the sovereignty of the state, and religion. As of December 16, courts had not taken up the lawsuits.
In June public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat ordered that critics of the president be criminally prosecuted. The NGO ALEF (Association Libanaise pour l’Education et la Formation) reported that legal rights advocates objected to implementation of the order and that as a result no one was actually criminally prosecuted for mocking or insulting the president.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: A 1962 law regulates print media. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The law further contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. This law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications.
There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. No specific law regulates online speech. The law, however, contains a number of speech offenses, such as defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Authorities are accordingly able to prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online under various authorities including cybercrime statues. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison as well as a fine.
The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events, as well as any broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers to broadcast any type of political news or programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that harm the state or its relations with foreign countries or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically affiliated” areas to report without removing brandings and logos identifying the outlets. For example, MTV journalists sometimes reportedly removed their outlet’s logo when entering Hizballah-affiliated areas, and MTV routinely decided not to report from these areas because of concern about how they would be treated. Outlets that sought to report in areas under the control of Hizballah were required to obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm. Several media teams following the October 28-29 round of demarcation negotiations in Naqoura reported that Hizballah operatives harassed them, prevented them from filming, including by breaking equipment, and demanded that they leave. The caretaker minister of information and the head of the Editor’s Syndicate denounced the incidents, while an LAF spokesperson noted that some media teams had moved away from the designated demarcation negotiation media location into territory controlled by Hizballah. Journalist Mariam Seif Eddine, who lives in a Hizballah-controlled southern Beirut suburb and criticized Hizballah in her reporting, told the ISF that she and her family were threatened and assaulted by Hizballah members in early December.
Journalists covering protests were on several occasions attacked or harassed by rioters and security forces. ISF soldiers injured at least four media members on January 15 while covering protests outside the ISF’s el-Helou barracks in Beirut, where protesters were calling for the release of detainees who had been arrested the previous day. The ISF director general apologized and promised an investigation into the attacks. Journalist Mohammad Zbeeb was attacked by three assailants during a news conference on February 21. The assailants were allegedly supporters of a minister about whom Zbeeb had reported on critically after a February 13 attack against Zbeeb, which occurred in a private parking structure. One of the minister’s bodyguards admitted to planning and carrying out the February 13 attack. Several local and international media workers were injured on June 6, 11, and 12 while covering protests, and on July 15, the minister of interior called for security forces to step up their protection of journalists.
Authorities continued to prosecute online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law. Prosecutors sometimes referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion, but more often they referred such cases to the Publications Court. Publications Court cases typically remained open for a year or more and typically ended with fines or dismissal. Judge Ghada Aoun on March 19 pursued the prosecution of economist Hassan Moukalled and OTV journalist Josephine Dib for slander and defamation against Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt and Member of Parliament Wael Abou Faour, and transferred the case to the Publications Court, according to a report by the Samir Kassir Foundation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities selectively applied elements of the law that permit censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The Directorate of General Security (DGS) may also review and censor any foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews were mostly for explicit, pornographic content. The law prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content regarding the country’s officially recognized religious groups or content that may provoke sectarian feuds. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship.
The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines may result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine. Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contains material that violates the law, including material considered a threat to national security, the DGS may legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. Publishing without prior approval a book that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.
Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request that the DGS ban a book. The government may prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to NGOs, as of September 8, each of the 30 book-banning cases the government registered in the publications court in 2017–mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens–remained in the process of being resolved. Authorities occasionally also referred such cases to criminal courts, a process not established in law.
Libel/Slander Laws: In most cases criminal courts heard libel and other defamation complaints, which may carry sentences of one to three years in prison but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and political figures or their representatives filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. The human rights NGO ALEF reported that in several dozen cases during the year, criminal defamation suits were filed against journalists, bloggers, political activists, and private citizens, including for posting their opinions in WhatsApp groups or on Facebook. While these cases rarely, if ever, resulted in prolonged detentions or jail sentences, interrogations by police and lengthy, expensive trials created a chilling effect on political speech.
NGOs stated that more than 100 individuals who participated in protests were detained by security forces because of statements they made at demonstrations or on social media. On June 18, security forces detained activist Michel Chamoun for allegedly criticizing President Michel Aoun and posting a video online describing Aoun’s tenure as president as a “humiliation.” Protesters in Jounieh clashed with security forces following Chamoun’s arrest, blocking the city’s main road and setting fire to debris. Chamoun was released the same day. Following his release Chamoun claimed to have been compelled by security forces to sign a pledge not to insult Aoun again if he wished to avoid prosecution. Chamoun had previously been arrested in April for criticizing Maronite patriarch Boutros Rai, but he was released after the patriarch declined to press charges.
Also on June 18, DGS personnel detained activist brother and sister Bandar el-Khatib and Kinda el-Khatib in Halba, Akkar. The pair allegedly criticized Hizballah and President Michel Aoun in social media posts. While Bandar was released on June 20, Kinda was referred to the Military Court and remained in custody as of the end of the year. Kinda is known as a Future Movement supporter, and the Future Movement’s ‘Blue Force’ Twitter account launched the hashtag #FreedomforKindaKhatib in solidarity with her. Social media campaigns were launched by those who called for her release and those who accused her of being an Israeli agent and of opposing Hizballah. On June 22, prosecutors charged her with spying for Israel and entering the West Bank and Gaza. On September 3, the investigating Military Court prosecutor issued an indictment against her, accusing her of communicating with agents of “the Zionist enemy” and providing security information about the country for the benefit of foreign countries, and referred her to the Military Court for trial. In the details of the indictment, it was noted that Kinda confirmed she had corresponded with an Israeli journalist, which she reported to the ISF’s Public Relations Division. The indictment also claimed Kinda met with a Kuwaiti intelligence officer and provided him with security information. On December 13, Kinda was sentenced to three years in prison for “collaborating” with and traveling to Israel.
Private citizens may file criminal complaints, which the law requires an investigating judge to consider, and many defamation cases were initiated via the allegations of private citizens. Politicians at times responded to allegations of wrongdoing leveled at them by filing criminal complaints alleging defamation. On August 24, Speaker Berri filed an antidefamation lawsuit against three journalists for their coverage of the August 8 demonstrations. The military justice code also prohibits defamation of the army.
The ISF Cybercrimes Bureau reported that, as of August 14, it received referrals of 371 defamation cases for investigation. The bureau reportedly investigated 671 defamation cases during the year. In March the NGO Human Rights Watch reported that security agencies called in at least 29 individuals for interrogation concerning free speech charges, including insult and defamation, between October 2019 and March. In 2019 Human Rights Watch reported a 325 percent increase in the number defamation cases investigated by authorities and noted prison sentences against at least three individuals in defamation cases between 2015 and 2019.
Nongovernmental Impact: Political and religious figures sometimes sought to rally public outcry aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and the press, including through coercion and threats of violence. Amal and Hizballah leaders cited “foreign interference” as a justification for limiting media publications in areas that they controlled.
The law does not restrict access to the internet. The government maintains a monopoly over the internet backbone, as well as over the fixed and mobile telephone industry in general, and therefore it exercises tight control over internet service providers (ISPs). Private ISPs obtain a permit by decree from the Ministry of Telecommunications.
The government reportedly restricted access to some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet. Generally, websites are censored through court orders filed with the ISF’s Cybercrimes Bureau for further investigation, which issues a final order to the Ministry of Telecommunications. Website owners are not notified that their websites have been blocked, but they must appeal the blocking within 48 hours in order to have the decision overturned. NGOs reported that the Ministry of Telecommunications continued to block websites without warning. In April the Office of the Prosecutor General ordered the Ministry of Telecommunications to block 28 exchange rate applications which, it claimed, were spreading false information about the unofficial exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Lebanese lira. On June 2, the website Blogger, a platform that allows users to create their own blogs, was blocked. The ministry provided no explanation for the blocking.
Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities typically considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Human rights groups reported that political parties and their supporters intimidated individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures. The ISF’s Cybercrime Bureau and other state security agencies also summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. On February 24, the Mount Lebanon public prosecutor ordered the arrest of journalist Charbel Khoury after Khoury was questioned by the ISF’s Cybercrimes Bureau over tweets that criticized the Free Patriotic Movement party chief’s economic advisor. Khoury refused to delete his tweet or sign any pledges to do so during interrogation. Khoury was released. NGOs noted the number of known summonses might not be accurate since many individuals chose not to discuss or report their cases.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.
The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.
Physical disputes over Hizballah banners commemorating the Shia holiday of Ashura and banners celebrating Salim Ayyash, who was convicted in absentia with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon verdict, broke out in Nabaa and Khalde in mid-August during the buildup to the Shia holiday of Ashura. In Khalde violence broke out for a second time on August 27 between local Sunnis and supporters of Amal and Hizballah over the hanging of Ashura banners. Several injuries were reported, as well as the deaths of a Sunni teenager and Syrian man.
The DGS Censorship Bureau did not ban any films during the year due to the lack of film releases in the country then. In 2019 the DGS Censorship Bureau requested the banning of two films, Hard Paint (2018) and Damascus Cover (2017), on the premise that they promoted homosexuality and the Israeli intelligence service, respectively. As of October 19, the Ministry of Interior had not issued final judgment on the DGS request. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints among the public that the DGS decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these freedoms.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration.
Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when protesters caused property damage or clashes broke out between opposing protesters. Security forces generally allowed demonstrators to protest peacefully during the widespread mass protests that began in October 2019 and during which the ISF and LAF predominantly demonstrated restraint and professionalism in interactions with protesters. The ISF occasionally used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who authorities alleged were engaging in violence or vandalism, and the LAF in some instances used nonlethal force to disperse protesters who resisted LAF efforts to clear key thoroughfares. The NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, however, reported security forces used excessive force against protesters on some occasions.
On January 15, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the el-Helou police station to object to the detention by authorities the previous night of more than 50 demonstrators. Violent confrontation broke out after protesters threw rocks, firecrackers, and bottles. According to witness accounts and footage reviewed by Human Rights Watch, at approximately 9 p.m. ISF units charged the gathered protesters, deploying large amounts of tear gas and using batons against protesters. An estimated 120 protesters were arrested but released the next day. In the incident 40 ISF members were injured, as well as four journalists and an unknown number of protesters. The ISF completed internal investigations into the incident but did not make the results of these investigations available to the public. The ISF also sought judicial investigations into the matter, but protesters who raised allegations against the ISF in media declined to take their allegations to the judiciary, preventing public investigations. On January 18 and 19, violent clashes erupted between ISF riot police and protesters, resulting in approximately 400 injured persons between protesters and ISF personnel. Security forces used rubber bullets, tear gas, and water cannons to disperse or deter protesters as well as intimidating and, in some cases, beating those attempting to film abuses. The media freedom organization Samir Kassir Foundation reported that security agents forced playwright and activist Hashem Adnan to delete a video he took of them destroying protester tents in downtown Beirut on March 28.
In the wake of the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4, which many Lebanese blamed on systemic government corruption and negligence, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Beirut on August 8 to demand the resignation of the second government in less than a year, ousting of the political elite, and accountability for the port disaster. Protesters clashed with security forces on August 8, including the PPF, LAF, and ISF. During the night protesters broke into, temporarily occupied, and vandalized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Energy and Water, Ministry of Economy and Trade, Ministry of Environment, Association of Banks of Lebanon, and Le Grey Hotel, which was set on fire. The LAF used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse some protesters engaged in vandalism and to discourage protesters from throwing stones, Molotov cocktails, and smoke bombs. The ISF used batons and tear gas to disperse demonstrators. One plain clothes individual identified by the ISF as belonging to the PPF and surrounded by security forces members but not wearing a uniform, shot live ammunition at protesters from within parliament premises. NGOs also reported live ammunition was shot from within the compound belonging to the PPF. Videos on social media appeared to show an LAF soldier firing live ammunition into the air before being stopped by his commanding officer. The LAF opened an investigation into the incident and reported the soldier was removed from active duty and permanently reassigned to an administrative position, and the soldier’s company commander was relieved of his command. Authorities used pellet shot (birdshot) against protesters, resulting in injuries to the head, eyes, and torsos of several demonstrators and some aid workers, although it remained unclear who was responsible.
The Lebanese Red Cross and the Islamic Emergency Relief Corps reported 728 injured (including both protesters and security forces), of whom 153 were transported to hospitals. The LAF reported 105 injuries, including two in critical condition. The ISF issued a statement that one ISF soldier was killed after falling down an elevator shaft in a building occupied by protesters, and 128 other ISF personnel were injured in the clashes. The ISF also stated that 20 individuals were detained during the protest. A lawyer with the NGO Legal Agenda said that 18 of the 20 individuals were released after 24 hours and two remained detained on charges unrelated to the protests.
After clashes between pro-President Aoun and anti-Aoun demonstrators grew violent outside the Presidential Palace in Baabda on September 12, LAF soldiers attempted to defuse tensions by forming a human cordon between the two sides. Multiple videos emerged on social media appearing to show individual uniformed soldiers using live fire in close proximity to protesters. In three videos soldiers fired live rounds into the air as a crowd control measure. The LAF released a statement noting that soldiers were “forced to shoot into the air” to disperse crowds after demonstrators pelted the LAF with rocks. Security forces investigated the incident and found no misconduct. Human Rights Watch condemned the use of live ammunition, called on the LAF to revise rules on the escalation of force at protests, and demanded an investigation of the incidents.
Altercations between protesters and supporters of the FTO Hizballah occurred sporadically during the protests, and security forces attempted to separate the conflicting groups with varying levels of success. On August 8, Hizballah and Amal supporters burned the symbolic gallows that protesters had erected to hang effigies of political leaders, including Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Amal leader Nabih Berri. On August 31, black-clad individuals, allegedly Amal and Hizballah supporters, riding motorcycles destroyed tents and personal property belonging to protesters in downtown Beirut.
Amnesty International reported that in October 2019 the LAF used live ammunition fired in the air to disperse protesters blocking a main road in the northern area of Beddawi, which resulted in the alleged wounding of two protesters. During the same incident, five officers were injured. As of December 16, a military court was investigating the incident. In 2019 an LAF bodyguard opened fire from inside a military vehicle attempting to pass through protesters blocking a road in Khalde, killing one protester. The LAF arrested the shooter and an investigation into the incident continued as of December 16.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association, with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.
No prior authorization is required to form an association, but organizers must notify the Ministry of Interior for it to obtain legal recognition, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects “public order, public morals, and state security.” In some cases the ministry sent an NGO’s notification papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or seats on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so can result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.
The cabinet must license all political parties.
In areas under Hizballah’s sway, independent NGOs faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of refugee populations and asylum seekers, most of whom were from the West Bank and Gaza, Syria, and Iraq (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).
In-country Movement: Armed nonstate actors hindered or prevented movement in areas they controlled. Armed Hizballah members controlled access to some areas under Hizballah’s control, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine prevented access to a border area under its control, according to the security services. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.
Citizenship: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father. A citizen mother married to a noncitizen father may not transmit Lebanese citizenship to her children (see section 2.g., Stateless Persons).
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom an estimated 27,000 were registered Palestinian refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) services were available. A comprehensive, multiyear plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared Camp in eight stages began in 2008; the project continued at year’s end and was approximately 75 percent completed. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, with a 76.5 billion Lebanese lira ($51 million according to the official exchange rate) shortfall remaining. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return. As of June, 3,370 families (13,887 residents) of the displaced families had returned to newly reconstructed apartments in the camp, and the temporary settlements that provided housing for them near Nahr el-Bared Camp were decommissioned.
f. Protection of Refugees
As of July there were nearly 880,414 Syrian refugees in the country registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived after that time. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 20 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to UNHCR. According to a UN study, refugees often took loans to cover basic needs such as rent, food, and health care, leaving nearly 90 percent in debt and food insecure.
In 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees other than undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the Ministry of Social Affairs did not acknowledge or submit any humanitarian admission cases, according to UNHCR.
Nearly 12,200 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees resided in the country, including 193 additional Iraqis who entered as of July 31 to escape violence. As of July 31, UNHCR also registered 2,282 refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan and 2,179 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In April 2019 the Higher Defense Council (HDC), a body the president chairs that includes cabinet ministers and security service heads, issued guidance to the security services to increase enforcement of building codes. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of refugee shelters. While demolition of hard structures did not continue during the year, environmental concerns remained one of the key reasons given for collective evictions in the first half of the year, affecting more than 470 individuals.
Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage of their daughters to relieve economic hardship. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, known as the kafala system, who faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs that assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes, and victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.
On November 23, a Syrian man in Bcharre allegedly shot and killed a local citizen before surrendering to security forces. The killing provoked an outcry from the local community, including physical violence, destruction of homes, threats, and verbal abuse directed at Syrians. Several Syrian refugees were injured, some severely. The ministries of Interior and Social Affairs were alerted, and the LAF intervened. The municipality hosted a town hall meeting and issued a circular calling on the security agencies to search the homes of Syrians living in Bcharre to find weapons and verify identities. Starting November 23, village residents–some armed with sticks, knives, and other weapons–drove out hundreds of Syrian families from Bcharre, leaving many unable to take their belongings, while others saw their homes damaged or destroyed. The UNHCR Office in Tripoli received more than 270 families, assessed their situations, and provided emergency cash assistance, medical and psychosocial support, and advice on alternative shelter, where possible. UNHCR advocated with authorities to promote calm and refrain from taking, encouraging, or condoning any actions of retaliation against Syrian refugees, stressing that collective retribution against a whole community for the actions of one individual was unacceptable.
Refoulement: The government reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. Some political party representatives, however, employed antirefugee rhetoric, stating that assistance to Syrian refugees in particular placed an additional burden on the state already facing an economic crisis. The DGS coordinated with Syrian government officials to facilitate the voluntary return of approximately 21,000 refugees from April 2018 until August. UNHCR did not organize these group returns but was present at departure points and found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced in the cases of those refugees whom they interviewed. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, questioned government claims that refugee returns were entirely voluntary, calling the environment “coercive” and citing credible risk of persecution or other human rights abuses upon return to areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
The government on July 14 approved a new refugee returns policy, which outlined its desire for Syrian refugees to return to Syria. The policy committed the government to eliminating obstacles that impede returns and to facilitating exit procedures, including waiving fees that departing refugees would otherwise have to pay as a condition of their exit. Despite reaffirming the government’s commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement, the policy downplayed the protection risks and lack of basic services returnees would face in Syria. It also called on the government to carry out a census of all refugees in Lebanon, with fines and potential detention for those who fail to self-report, as well as the creation of an electronic database containing refugee biodata to be managed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, both of which raised significant protection concerns, according to UNHCR. Although significant financial and human resource hurdles prevented the government from implementing the new policy during the year, its approval after years of deliberation stoked refugee fears of refoulement.
An HDC decision enacted in April 2019 required the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally thereafter. Deportations ceased in mid-March, when the border with Syria was closed amid COVID-19, and resumed again in September. As of September 2019, the DGS reported it had deported 2,731 individuals under this order, and deportations continued until the end of March when they were suspended following the implementation of border closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Humanitarian organizations considered the government’s deportation policy–particularly the HDC decision–to be creating a high risk of refoulement in view of the lack of a formal review process to assess credible fear of persecution or torture. Human rights groups and the international community all raised concerns about the risk of turning over refugees to Syrian authorities. There were several anecdotal reports by international observers of Syrian refugees who were subsequently abused in detention, including one death in custody in July, after being turned over to Syrian authorities by Lebanese officials. Government officials maintained that the policy only applied to illegal migrants, not refugees, although it did not appear there was sufficient due process to make such a determination. UNHCR and international donors urged the government to provide for a judicial or independent administrative review before carrying out deportations. The government maintained that while the law requires a court hearing on all deportation cases, it did not have the bandwidth to process the existing caseload.
Non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. In the past most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country. Deportations of non-Syrian refugees/asylum seekers were not observed by UNHCR during the year.
In September, Human Rights Watch reported that more than 200 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers attempting to flee by boat to Cyprus were intercepted by Cypriot and Lebanese security forces and forced to return to Lebanon. In October, UNHCR and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s Maritime Task Force hosted a roundtable with the DGS and LAF to sensitize them to international protection standards, including how to treat returnees requesting asylum after being intercepted at sea or otherwise received.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees, the vast majority of them Syrian. In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, the government has waived residency fees since 2017 for refugees who registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who had renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship. DGS implementation of the waiver continued to be inconsistent, and there was minimal improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to UNHCR, 28 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of July.
Due to the slow pace of implementation of residency determinations, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement due to the possibility of arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them or confiscated their identification documents (IDs). Syrian refugees faced barriers to obtaining Syrian IDs that were required to renew their residency permits in Lebanon because of the hostility of the Syrian government to the refugee population and because Syrian embassies and consulates charged exorbitant fees. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for refugees of other nationalities, particularly Iraqis, due to high renewal fees and sponsorship requirements. There is no official limitation of movement for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country; however, PRS without legal status faced limitations on their freedom of movement, mainly due to the threat of arrest at checkpoints.
Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border only to PRS with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured visas to the country by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. In 2019 UNRWA estimated that 12 percent of PRS in the country had arrived after 2016.
In 2017 the DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delayed submission. This circular has been consistently used since its issuance and applies to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016. The circular also granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents, such as an individual civil status card, instead of passports or national identity cards. Previously, children were required to have an ID or valid travel document to be able to renew their residency. If they did not have one of these two documents, their legal status was revoked, and they became at risk of arrest and detention if they were stopped at any checkpoint. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings. Authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings but who overstayed their temporary transit visas or failed to renew their visas.
Since 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for the PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in 2017 applicable to Syrians. Since 2018, the Ministry of Interior waived the costly court proceedings to obtain birth registration of PRS and Syrian refugee children older than one year who were born in Lebanon between 2011 and 2018. The proof of marriage requirement remained in effect during the year, and a valid residency permit was needed to obtain a marriage certificate.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures might be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities typically enforced them for Syrian refugees, who mostly lack legal residency status and could face greater consequences if detained for a curfew violation. In March, Human Rights Watch reported that at least eight municipalities, citing COVID-19 concerns, implemented curfews that restricted the movement of Syrian refugees to certain times. Human Rights Watch claimed that the municipalities introduced these measures before the government called for a nationwide curfew. In the Kfarhabou municipality in March, authorities implemented restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including a curfew on Syrian refugees between 3 p.m. and 7 a.m. In Darbaashtar municipality, also in March, Human Rights Watch declared Syrians were barred from leaving their homes or receiving visitors without exceptions.
The only restrictions on other Lebanese residents were general restrictions on movement except for emergencies, according to these reports. Some municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews (outside of COVID-19 related curfews), evictions, and threats of evictions. UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.
During the year the government continued to limit refugees’ ability to reside in the country. Measures included forced compliance with building codes in refugee shelters, which resulted in evictions from private property, arrests for residency-related offenses, and refugee-specific limitations on movement ostensibly to contain the pandemic. In March as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, law enforcement agents were instructed to refrain from carrying out arrests based on residency-related charges.
Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. Cases of ID confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, and a few violent incidents against refugees occurred. UNHCR staff reported restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, whom authorities are less likely to stop yet who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, to perform family errands.
Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning. Employment restrictions that began in 2019 remained in effect, although enforcement was not as strict during the year.
The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retire or resign. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of basic medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).
Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including medicine, law and engineering that require membership in a professional association. Informal restrictions on work in other industries left many refugees dependent upon UNRWA for education, healthcare and social services. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to excessive bureaucracy and societal stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.
Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.
The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA provides health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which suffered heavy damage in past conflicts (see also section 2.e., Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons). By agreement with the government, Palestinian security committees provided security for refugees in the camps.
The government did not permit UNRWA to install individual electricity meters in apartments, preferring that UNRWA pay a single bill rather than collecting from thousands of households, which limited access to electricity for residents.
Palestinian refugees typically could not access public health and education services or own land. By law Palestinians are excluded from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law’s entry into force could bequeath it to their heirs.
Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not considered citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. By law the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to government-provided health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.
Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for the country since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 200,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2019-20 academic year. UNHCR estimated there were almost 512,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many nonprofit and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care. In July, Human Rights Watch alleged there was a dearth of protection facilities such as safe shelters in the country for male and transgender women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence fleeing Syria.
Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary healthcare system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.
g. Stateless Persons
Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This legal discrimination particularly affected Lebanese, Palestinians, and increasingly Syrians from households headed by women. Moreover, undocumented Syrian refugees were unable to register their marriages and births of their children due to their lack of official status. Additionally, some children born to citizen fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.
Approximately 3,000-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These Palestinians began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize their legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures.
Undocumented Palestinians, not registered in other countries where UNRWA operates, such as Syria or Jordan, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. In most cases UNRWA nonetheless provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of these were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.
The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law, birth registration of children older than one year previously required a court procedure, proof of marriage, an investigation by the DGS, and a DNA test. The Ministry of Interior facilitated the required documentation for birth registration of the PRS and Syrian children more than one year old and born in the country since 2011. In such cases authorities no longer require the court procedure and DNA tests to register these children; however, proof of marriage is still mandatory. This decree does not apply to the registration of Palestinian refugee children older than one year.
Approximately 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities continued to deny them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and administrative obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who had previously received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 under a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.
Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, or own or inherit property.
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: Michel Aoun was elected president in 2016, ending two and one-half years of political stalemate. Following the passage of a new electoral law, parliamentary elections were held in 2018 for the first time in nine years. Observers concluded that the elections were generally free and fair. Eight members of parliament resigned following the August 4 Beirut port explosion. According to the constitution, parliamentary by-elections must be held within 60 days to fill vacant seats. Elections have been delayed until at least January 1, 2021, according to a ministerial decree issued September 10 that cited the state of emergency, damage to polling places in Beirut, lack of supplies, lack of funds, and overstretched security forces.
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 been 13 female ministers subsequently, including sitting ministers. Six women served in the 20-member cabinet formed in January, one of whom became the country’s first female deputy prime minister and minister of defense. Six of the 128 members of parliament were women, and one of them resigned her seat in August. Several female members of parliament were close relatives of prominent male politicians, whereas 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.
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 did not implement 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.
On May 28, 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 such cases.
On July 21, the government agreed to hire accounting firms to conduct forensic and financial audits of the Central Bank’s accounts. The government signed the contracts on September 1, but the auditor withdrew in November over a political impasse related to obtaining financial records.
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 employees of the national and municipal governments, 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 explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4, which many Lebanese blamed on systemic government corruption and negligence, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in downtown Beirut on August 8 to demand 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 indicting several members of the political elite.
Corruption: The government lacked strong control over corruption. There was limited parliamentary or auditing oversight of revenue collection and expenditures. On April 21, parliament endorsed the anticorruption law and approved the establishment of the Anticorruption Commission. On May 12, 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. A number of cases were referred to the judiciary, including a case 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 May 14, Financial Prosecutor Ali Ibrahim ordered the arrest of Mazen Hamdan, the Central Bank’s director of monetary operations, for manipulating the Lebanese lira’s exchange rate with the U.S. dollar. Hamdan was released on bail, and investigations continued as of September 8. The head of the Money Changers Syndicate, Mahmoud Mrad, and others were arrested following investigation into money changers selling currency in violation of regulatory standards. They were released, and no formal charges were filed as of December 16.
Two judges were dismissed from the judiciary during the year following internal investigations into corruption allegations.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires the president of the republic, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, and the president of the Council of Ministers as well as ministers, members of parliament, and judges to disclose their financial assets in a sealed envelope deposited at the Constitutional Council. The government does not make the information available to the public. Officials must do the same when they leave office. Heads of municipalities disclose their financial assets in a sealed envelope deposited at the Ministry of Interior, and civil servants deposit their sealed envelopes at the Civil Servants Council, which are also not available to the public. If a case is brought to the State Council for noncompliance, the State Council may take judiciary administrative action to remove the offender from office.