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Anti-government protesters wave Lebanese flags during ongoing anti-government protests, in Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2019. The Arabic on the fist reads "Revolution." © 2019 AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s authorities are failing to address a massive economic and political crisis that is endangering citizens’ access to vital services, including health care, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. Security forces have at times failed to protect protesters from violent attacks by counter-demonstrators.

Anti-government demonstrations began on the evening of October 17, 2019, after the government announced new taxes, including on the messaging application WhatsApp, which it soon revoked due to popular outrage. The countrywide protests intensified as people directed their anger against the entire political establishment, whom they blame for corruption and the country’s dire economic situation.

“Lebanon’s politicians have done little to stop living standards from plummeting and have not responded to protesters’ concerns about the worsening economic crisis,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Their dereliction is threatening to drastically worsen access to health care and the availability of medical supplies.”

In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.

Security forces have at times used excessive and unnecessary force against protesters. In one of the most violent incidents, on December 14 and 15, security forces – the Internal Security Forces’ Riot Police and the Parliament Police – used large quantities of teargas against protesters in downtown Beirut. Security forces also shot protesters with rubber bullets, sprayed them with water cannons, and violently beat some protesters. 

The financial crisis is endangering access to health care, as medical practitioners and public officials warn that hospitals may soon not be able to perform life-saving surgery or provide urgent medical care. The crisis stems from the government’s failure to reimburse private and public hospitals, including funds owed by the National Social Security Fund and military health funds, making it difficult to pay staff and purchase medical supplies. In addition, a dollar shortage has restricted the import of vital goods and led banks to curtail credit lines.

Authorities detained and charged people for speech critical of government officials, especially corruption allegations, and of religious institutions. Lawyers also used the defamation laws to file complaints against individuals and publications that express concern about the country’s economic situation.

Women, who have played a leading role in the protests, face systematic discrimination under Lebanese law. An estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers are excluded from labor law protections and are at risk of exploitation and abuse.

The Higher Defense Council made several decisions that increased pressure on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including to deport Syrians who enter Lebanon illegally, to demolish the refugee shelters, and to crack down on Syrians working without authorization.

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