(Beirut) – Lebanon’s human rights situation deteriorated in 2016 amid longstanding human rights concerns, a waste management crisis, refugee concerns, and attacks on freedom of expression and dissent, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2017.

The government’s failure to provide basic services, including timely and sanitary garbage removal, led to protests, with some protesters prosecuted before military tribunals. Criminal defamation laws were used against others who spoke out against the government. Detainees are subjected to ill-treatment and torture. But in a positive development, parliament in October 2016 established a National Human Rights Institute and national preventative mechanism against torture.

Bara’a, 10, originally from Ghouta, Syria, leaves for school from her informal refugee camp in Mount Lebanon. 

“Amid the presidential vacuum, the human rights situation in Lebanon deteriorated in 2016,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But the establishment of a new government is an opportunity to turn the situation around by passing badly needed legislative and policy reforms that would bring Lebanon into compliance with its international human rights obligations.”

In the 687-page World Report, its 27th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights as an impediment to the majority will. For those who feel left behind by the global economy and increasingly fear violent crime, civil society groups, the media, and the public have key roles to play in reaffirming the values on which rights-respecting democracy has been built.

Among those prosecuted under criminal defamation laws in 2016 was a woman sentenced by a military court on August 22 to a month in prison for “offending the military institution,” after alleging that military intelligence members raped and tortured her in detention in 2013. The Lebanese penal code also criminalizes libel and defamation of the president and other public officials, with prison terms of up to one year. Lebanese authorities arrested a lawyer and human rights activist, Nabil al-Halabi, on May 30, 2016, over Facebook posts criticizing government officials. He was released three days later after signing a “document of submission.”

A lack of coordination in the government’s response to sex trafficking puts women and girls at risk. Syrian women appear to be at particular risk of trafficking into forced prostitution and sexual exploitation. In March, security officers freed as many as 75 Syrian women from two brothels. Although the country’s 2011 anti-trafficking law directs the Social Affairs Ministry to establish a trust fund for victims, the fund has yet to be established.

Women also suffer discrimination under the 15 Lebanese personal status laws, dependent on each individual’s religious affiliation, including unequal access to divorce, residence of children after divorce, and property rights. Unlike Lebanese men, Lebanese women cannot pass on their nationality to foreign spouses and children and are subject to discriminatory inheritance laws.

As the Syrian refugee crisis continued, residency policies introduced in January 2015 caused an estimated 70 percent of Syrians to lose legal status, restricting their movement and their ability to work, to get health care, and to send their children to school. With limited international support, the government struggled to meet refugees’ needs. Lebanese politicians have called for the relocation of refugees to areas within Syria.

“There is nowhere inside Syria that would be safe for Syrians to return to, and any forced relocation would be illegal under international law,” Fakih said. “The new president should make clear that he intends to fulfill Lebanon’s human rights obligations, and disavow the forced deportations of refugees.”