Human rights body appointed at long last
The members of an independent body mandated to monitor and enhance the protection of human rights in Lebanon were appointed by Cabinet Monday, ending over a year of delays. The 10 candidates selected to form Lebanon’s National Human Rights Institution will be tasked with the role of monitoring compliance with international human rights law and referring cases of violations to the General Prosecutor. While the step was met with appreciation by human rights organizations, concerns lingered over the independence of the institution and its nominees.
“We were a bit surprised [about] the choice of civil society representatives that are outside the circle of human rights NGOs,” Georges Ghali, programs director at the human rights organization ALEF, told The Daily Star.
The law promulgated in October 2016, which laid the foundations for the creation of the NHRI, established criteria for the selection of the ten members. They are to be chosen from among the judiciary, academics, medical doctors, lawyers and civil society, and will be granted immunity from prosecution.
Civil society representatives are required to have at least 10 years of experience in fighting human rights abuses. Among the three selected candidates, two have sparked controversy. Gen. Fadel Hasan Daher, who served in the Internal Security Forces, was nominated alongside Fadi Romanos Gerges, who is a member of the Maronite Foundation for Development and failed to secure a seat in Jezzine in the 2016 municipal elections.
Ghali argued the two candidates are “outside the circle of human rights NGOs” and should not, therefore, have been appointed to the NHRI. “But now we have to look forward,” Ghali said. “Our role now as NGOs is to provide the NHRI with as much help as possible so that they can [fulfill] their mandate.”
Wadih al-Asmar, president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) and himself a candidate for the NHRI, told The Daily Star the nominations had left his organization “quite disappointed.”
“We don’t feel represented,” Asmar said, adding the nominations had been marred by sectarianism. The 10 candidates are equally split along broader sectarian lines, with five Christians and five Muslims.
Additionally, Asmar argued that the full list of candidates and their resumes had not been made public as requested by the CLDH, and this made the selection process less transparent. Among the candidates put forward by NGOs to become members of the NHRI were Susan Jabbour, who presides over an organization for the rehabilitation of victims of torture, and Wadad Halawani, an activist who worked on the issue of discovering the fate of the disappeared during the Civil War.
The selected candidates, by contrast, “do not represent human right activists,” Asmar said, and their level of independence from established political parties and institutions should be called into question.
Caretaker Cabinet Secretary-General Fouad Fleifel did not respond to requests for comment regarding the candidates’ selection.
The Acting United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Pernille Dahler Kardel, and the Regional Representative of the Office High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, Abdel Salam Sidahmed, welcomed the appointments.
“This is an important step toward fulfilling Lebanon’s international human rights obligations through increased transparency and accountability,” Kardel said in a statement.
Sidahmed added, “It is now crucial for the Lebanese authorities to provide adequate support to the NHRI in a way that would enable it to carry out its mandate.”
This includes the allocation of independent resources to the NHRI, which must be expressly stated in the future 2019 state budget. The NHRI is also comprised of the National Preventive Mechanism, mandated to improve detention conditions. In order for the body to work efficiently, unrestricted access to detention facilities must also be ensured.
The U.N. is set to assess and ratify the NHRI as compliant to its principles, taking into account the institution’s independence as established in the Paris Principles ratified by Lebanon in 2009.
For the time being and despite the appointment of its members, “the institute is still words on paper,” Bassam Khawaja, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Star. “It needs to be formally established and funded so that it can start work.”