Spotlight on rights of migrant workers in Lebanon
Concerns have been raised following the deportation of prominent migrant rights worker Sujana Rana on 10th December. Her expulsion from Lebanon has drawn attention to the struggle of many migrants who do not enjoy basic human rights protections. Rana, a Nepalese migrant domestic worker and a leading member of the unrecognised Domestic Workers Union was detained at her home on the 30th November and held by authorities without access to legal counsel until she was taken our of the country. He deportation comes at a time when Lebanese authorities are adopting an increasingly aggressive stance against people advocating for migrant rights. On 5th December, fellow activist Rose Limbu was also detained by authorities and is currently facing deportation. Both activists were held without charge, leading many to believe that they were targetted as a result of their activism. Despite a fightback by civil society to prevent the deportations, Lebanese authorities moved ahead regardless. A joint statement noted:
'The reasons behind the arrests are still unclear as the Lebanese General Security did not release any statement or official accusations. Sujana and Rose have legal residency and work permits in Lebanon. They were taken and arrested from their employers’ house. We are extremely concerned about their arrest and the sudden, very fast decision to deport them without any judicial oversight or without them being allowed to receive visits or assign a lawyer.'
The harassment, detention and deportations are emblematic of a larger struggle for equal rights in Lebanon. As host to over 250,000 migrant domestic workers, Lebanon has long been criticised for its exclusion of migrant workers from basic human rights safeguards.
A need to defend the rights of sexual violence victims recently prompted a wave of protests across Lebanon. The controversial Article 522 of the penal code, which allows rapists to avoid prosecution if they marry their victims, has become symbolic of the fight for gender equality in Lebanon. Civil society protests and continuous advocacy campaigns have long drawn attention the issue and ultimately succeeded in achieving the policy change sought. On 7th December, the Lebanese parliament’s Administration and Justice Committee agreed to abolish the article. The amendment to the penal code has been broadly welcomed and viewed as a landmark victory for civil society. In a recent interview, humanitarian activist Yara al-Wazir, noted:
'The dangerous part, both for the public and for the government, is that civil society may not realise just how much power they had before this day. Successful campaigning against Article 522 is not the end; rather merely the beginning of a long fight to secure basic rights for women.'
The committee is currently discussing a draft law that will be presented later on to parliament, and it is considering amending articles 503-522 about misdemeanors and honor violations, by adding penalties and forcing stricter punishments.
The right to free expression on social media has recently been in the spotlight in Lebanon. On 6th December, Bassel al-Amin was arrested following a post on social media that criticised Lebanon, its Presidents and its emblem. While he was later released on bail on 12th December, his file was referred to the general prosecutor, who will decide whether to drop the case or bring charges. Following al-Amin's arrest, civil society groups organised an online petition and social media mobilisation around the #StatusIsNotACrime tag, and Facebook profile posts arguing against the trend of prosecuting activists in Lebanon based on their social media status.