(Beirut) - Political parties and candidates in the June parliamentary elections should outline their plans to improve Lebanon's human rights record and promise to enforce the country's obligations under human rights law, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. So far, the parties and their candidates have generally ignored human rights issues in their platforms.

The eight-page report, "Lebanon's 2009 Parliamentary Elections: A Human Rights Agenda," focuses on five priority areas of human rights problems in Lebanon: ill-treatment and torture in detention; the "disappeared" from the civil war; discrimination against women; ill-treatment of migrant domestic workers; and discrimination against Palestinian refugees. It outlines specific and feasible recommendations and urges political parties to make carrying them out a part of their electoral commitment.

"Lebanese politicians need to move beyond their slogans of promoting ‘justice, reform and equality' and start explaining exactly how they plan to achieve these objectives," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "At a minimum, they should promise to put an end to torture and amend laws that discriminate against women and Palestinian refugees."

Since the last parliamentary elections in 2005, Lebanese authorities have taken some steps to improve human rights, but they have not followed through on many of these initiatives. For example, the government granted the International Committee of the Red Cross access to detention facilities in February 2007 and ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture in December 2008. However, officials remain unwilling to investigate and prosecute those accused of responsibility for torture and have yet to comply with the provisions of the Convention against Torture, which Lebanon ratified in 2000.

The national-unity government that emerged after the Doha agreement in May 2008 pledged in its ministerial declaration on August 4, 2008, to take steps to uncover the fate of the thousands of people who disappeared during the civil war, which ended almost two decades ago. Despite this official pledge and numerous expressions of support by Lebanese political parties, the government took no practical steps to shed light on the fate of the ‘disappeared'.

The report lists concrete recommendations that build on existing initiatives, including seeking pledges by candidates and political parties that they will:

  • Call on the Ministry of Interior to publish the results of the investigations it began last August into allegations of corruption and torture in Lebanese prisons.
  • Urge the current Syrian-Lebanese committee established to investigate disappearances involving Syrian security forces to make public any information it has obtained since May 2005.
  • Insist that the Ministry of Labor set up an inspection unit to monitor the  recently enacted standard contract for migrant domestic workers, set up to help protect them from abuse.
  • Abolish legislative restrictions on the employment of Palestinians.
  • Insist that the government submit its required initial report to the UN Committee against Torture, which was due in 2001.

Human Rights Watch also urged Lebanese political parties and candidates to tackle broader, long-standing human rights problems, such as the discrimination against Palestinians. While the government acknowledged the dire living conditions for Palestinians when it created the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee in October 2005, it has not changed the discriminatory policies that deny the Palestinians the right to own property and restrict the professions in which they may work.

"Lebanon's recurring bouts of instability, occupation and war have often delayed necessary and overdue reforms," said Whitson. "Lebanon's leaders should take advantage of the current stability to show that they are serious about building a state that protects human rights."