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A general view shows the opening of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on February 28, 2011. © 2011 Reuters

(Beirut) – The government of Lebanon should use the United Nations Human Rights Council review of its record to pledge concrete measures to address its longstanding human rights issues.

Lebanon will appear for the country’s second Universal Periodic Review on November 2, 2015, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Lebanon accepted many recommendations following its first review in 2010 but has failed to make progress on many of them.

“Lebanon missed many opportunities in the last five years to finally move forward on its human rights record,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director. “As the country’s challenges add up, it can’t afford to procrastinate or delay essential reforms to end impunity and ensure basic rights for many marginalized residents – nationals and foreigners alike.”

In a March 2015 submission to the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about the ill-treatment and torture of detainees by a range of security forces; discriminatory provisions against women’s rights in personal status laws, nationality laws, and the criminal code; the exclusion of migrant domestic workers from the labor code; the restrictive immigration rules based on the kafala system that apply to migrant domestic workers; the risk of detention for Syrian refugees without legal status; the lack of progress on the rights of Palestinian refugees; and the lack of movement on a draft law to create a national commission to investigate the fate of the disappeared.

In its national submission to the Human Rights Council on September 25, the Lebanese government asserted that “vigorous steps are also being taken to prevent torture by prosecuting perpetrators of torture and either sentencing them to imprisonment or subjecting them to severe disciplinary measures, such as dismissal from office.”

However, in practice, Lebanon has failed to properly investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for torture. While arrests of low-ranking security officials sometimes follow public abuse scandals, prosecutions and proper reporting on follow-up measures are rare.

For example, no proper investigations were opened in October 2012, after army and intelligence officials rounded up and beat migrant workers in Beirut. In July 2013, an investigative military judge issued arrest warrants for five members of military intelligence for the death in custody of Nader Bayoumi, who was detained following clashes in Abra between the army and armed followers of Sunni Sheikh Ahmed al-Assir. Despite follow-up inquiries and calls for transparent and public updates from the authorities, there has been no public reporting on the investigations.

An essential part of the problem is that military courts investigate allegations of abuse by the armed forces. On September 21, 2015, Military Intelligence arrested Layal al-Kayaje after she alleged to local media that two members of Military Intelligence had raped and tortured her during a previous detention, in 2013. Instead of setting an independent investigation into the allegations, officials referred the case to a military prosecutor, who is investigating her for making false accusations. Friends of al-Kayaje told Human Rights Watch that the military prosecutor ordered her release on bail more than a week ago. She has not yet been released.

Most notably, Lebanon has failed to take significant steps to carry out the recommendations it accepted following its first review in 2010. For example, it has failed to establish a national mechanism for the preventing torture, to which it committed itself by ratifying the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture in 2008.

Lebanon’s only substantial advance was the enactment in 2014 of a law against domestic violence. But the country still needs to develop a comprehensive national strategy to combat gender-based violence and take steps to achieve gender equality and eliminate discrimination against women, including in personal status laws.

Lebanon also has not kept its promises to facilitate access to jobs for Palestinian refugees, with tensions growing over the country’s large number of Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

Refugees from Syria find it hard to pay fees and obtain necessary documentation to renew their residencies, leaving many without legal status. This leaves them at risk of arrest and ill-treatment, labor exploitation, and statelessness.

“The failure to prosecute human rights abusers is sadly emblematic of the Lebanese government’s failure to take action on a wide range of serious human rights problems,” Houry said. “UN member countries should make clear that they are not satisfied with Lebanon’s inaction and insist upon genuine reform.”

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