Rule of Law Principle Includes Migrant Workers


Al-Akhbar English

Wissam al-Saliby

On the evening of 7 October 2012, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) raided three houses in the Beirut neighborhood of Jeitawi in Achrafieh where up to 72 migrant workers reside and rounded them up and subjected them to beatings. Media reports said that 11 migrants were arrested.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an investigation and the punishment for the army attacks on migrants. HRW said that the workers “were not aware of anyone being arrested.”

Either foreigners are the only persons in Lebanon harassing and aggressing Lebanese, or that harassment and aggression by Lebanese – as opposed to non-Lebanese – does not constitute a violation of the law and is tolerated.Responding to HRW, an LAF communiqué (as well as a communiqué by an Achrafieh citizen group) affirmed the role of the military “in responding to abuses and harassment.” These responses were explained as an implementation of the rule of law.

In recent years, training and capacity building have been pursued by Lebanon’s various security forces, under the guise of the “rule of law,” mostly supported by foreigner donors and embassies. One such example is the European Union project to support the Lebanese police.

Rule of law implies that everyone – from the individual right up to the state itself – is accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated. Yet, migrant workers in Lebanon seem to “fall outside” the rule of law. Over the past four years, numerous human rights campaigns have failed to impact a sustainable change in the situation of migrant domestic workers, and in replacing the sponsorship (Kafala) system with another system respective of human dignity.

On October 11, the LAF’s second communiqué in relation to the October 7 incident called on citizens to report harassment and aggression by foreigners to security forces, in order for the latter to respond to them.

The rationale of this communiqué is that either foreigners are the only persons in Lebanon harassing and aggressing Lebanese, or that harassment and aggression by Lebanese – as opposed to non-Lebanese – does not constitute a violation of the law and is tolerated.

Also, the communiqué’s proposal that the security forces “respond” to violations suggests that the judiciary is sidelined – certainly not in compliance with the rule of law.

The Lebanese public, particularly within the Christian community, has not forgotten the rape and murder of Myriam al-Ashkar in November 2011 by a Syrian janitor working at a monastery in the Keserwan region of Sahel Alma, where Ashkar had been praying.

Reporting on the October 7 incident in Achrafieh, New TV/a> collected testimonies by Lebanese and women migrant domestic workers who were presumably aggressed or molested by unidentified male migrant workers in Achrafieh during an unidentified period of time.

On Facebook, the Achrafieh page discussions in relation to the incident were enflamed with statements such as “I would like to see your reaction when one of those pigs molests your sister or mother again and again or robs u [sic] with zero remorse.” Telecoms minister Nicolas Sehnaoui issued a statement decrying the campaign against the LAF following the latter’s crackdown on workers of various nationalities who had committed crimes.

In contrast with these discourses, the principle of individual criminal responsibility, including the prohibition of collective punishment, is a fundamental guarantee of international human rights law. The European Court of Human Rights stated that “it is a fundamental rule … that criminal liability does not survive the person who has committed the criminal act” (AP, MP and TP v Switzerland, Case No 71/1996/690/882).

The political elite and the media are failing to make a clear distinction between suspected criminals (migrants or citizens) and the community of male migrant workers. And they have deliberately ignored the fact that some of the migrants who were beaten on October 7 have been living in Lebanon since the ‘90s, are well integrated in the local community and known to their Lebanese neighbors.

The political elite and the media are failing to make a clear distinction between suspected criminals (migrants or citizens) and the community of male migrant workers.Since 2009, I have documented on my blog, Ethiopian Suicides, this same phenomena in relation to women migrant domestic workers. A given case of theft or abuse by a migrant domestic worker is cited to reject the demands of the human rights community for reform.

Should we assume that a given migrant worker is suspected of criminal behavior, the judiciary has to intervene and investigate, and to establish the facts. This is the cornerstone of the rule of law, and the guarantee for the safety of both the migrant worker community and the Lebanese community hosting the migrants.

Further to this, Article 14 of the Lebanese constitutions states: “Domicile is inviolable. No one can enter it except when provided by the law and according to the procedures the law prescribes.” For the purpose of cracking down on criminality, whether committed by Lebanese or by migrants, the general prosecutor and the investigation judge are entitled to issue search warrants for places of residence. The sanctions for a law enforcement official violating the privacy of homes is detailed in the Lebanese Army’s own publication, Majallet al-Jaysh, in its January 2006 edition.

Codes of conduct are aimed at rendering explicit how law enforcement officials can and should respect human rights, human dignity and freedoms, the most important of which are the right to life, prohibition of torture and cruel treatment, and the right to a fair trial.

In 2011, the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) adopted a Code of Conduct, with support from the United National Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The model code of conduct followed by most states is the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, adopted by the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (Cuba, 1990).

Historically, the LAF have played the role of law enforcement officials, contributing to maintaining Lebanon’s security and stability. In light of this internal role, the LAF should seek to follow the ISF code of conduct, or at a minimum, abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms.

In the foreword to the ISF Code of Conduct, the Minister of Interior and Municipalities Marwan Charbel said that “this (code) is a pioneering accomplishment and a worthy model for Lebanon and the world as the Code of Conduct establishes institutional, ethical and professional ground rules observing national legislation and international conventions and standards…Let us contribute to strengthening the rule of law and state institutions based on the principles of democracy and respect for human rights.”

In contrast with the October 7 incident, the Code of Conduct states that “police members will not practice, incite, or disregard any act of torture or any cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment during investigations and during the execution of their missions…Police members will be ethical and polite; they will also be strict, tactful and well-mannered and show no arrogance when performing their duties.”

With such guidelines in place, and with legislative safeguards for prevention of abuse of security forces, and for a fair trial, the LAF, the ISF and the Lebanese government should invest more effort to ensure compliance with these rules. And they must demonstrate that the principle of the rule of law in Lebanon is inclusive of the migrant worker community – both male and female.

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