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Workshop on Human Rights, between the Ministry, the Ombudsman and the National Commission on Human Rights

Workshop on “Human Rights, between the Ministry, the Ombudsman and the National Commission on Human Rights”

The Human Rights Institute of the Beirut Bar Association organized a workshop in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on “Human Rights, between the Ministry, the Ombudsman and the National Commission on Human Rights”, at the Beirut Bar Association.

After the national anthem, the President of the Beirut Bar Association, Mr. Antonio Al-Hashem began by thanking the Parliamentary Commission for Human Rights, the Human Rights Institute of the Beirut Bar Association, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which strives to coordinate and communicate with legislative bodies and organizations to ensure the success of this forum. Al-Hashem said that “world leaders have not lost sight of the idea of protecting human rights. In fact, the common interest in the concept of current thinking lies in the maintenance of the rights and duties of each individual. The role of governance is thus reflected in the maintenance of these rights, in the reconciliation of their requirements and in their deployment, in a wat that facilitates the fulfillment of duties by each citizen. If justice is set aside, nations will become large-scale criminal organizations.”
He added that “based on this idea, human dignity has become the main problem of our time. One of the most amusing statements on the sidelines of the preparation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is undoubtedly that of Mahatma Gandhi, in which he said: "Despite her illiteracy, my mother, who was a visionary, taught me that rights do not work and last unless they are accompanied by the fulfillment of duties. Even the right to live is only given to us if we fulfill our duty as citizens of the world. If we base ourselves on this fundamental principle, it would be easy for us to determine the duties of men and women and to establish the relationship between law and duty. Any other right is inaccurate, and it would be futile to defend it.”
Mr. Al-Hashem went on to say that “human rights are at the heart of national existence. In fact, it is neither economic independence nor political power, but human rights and fundamental freedoms that enabled Lebanon to exist and survive as an independent entity. Through the defense of human rights, we find that the latter are no longer part of the issues that are subject to the usual system, but that they are now the responsibility of Government Bodies seeking to protect them. It is indisputable that human beings, while ensuring their sacred rights, seek to realize their greatest desire, which is to see their justice strong and independent, thus guaranteeing that these rights go beyond other authorities. Justice is the last bastion for human freedom, since it protects rights. Injustice can become a human tragedy, when the oppressed is unable to bear their pain. They will only find public opinion at their side, it will be their only refuge: they complain, hoping that the echo of moral judgments will succeed in repairing injustice and starting reconsiderations. Injustice does not escape time. Public opinion is the inspector, the lawyer, and it gives the final judgment; it is in fact the truth that takes precedence over judicial truth.”
He added that “any leader or any person in power finds their place at the top, if they avoid prejudice and hatred, by attaching themselves to justice and spontaneously devoting themselves to the eradication of injustice, whatever its origin, because the revocation of mistakes is a virtue. Also, the suppression of the mistakes of others is a duty, as Al-Farouq, Omar ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph, says: if one of my employees has oppressed someone, and I am aware of his injustice, but I have not changed it, I will be the one to have oppressed.
And in order not to elaborate on the subjects chosen for the discussions, and that we are going to leave to the eminent personalities participating in this forum, it is incumbent upon us to set out these subjects, which we have long defended, beginning with the Ombudsman, then the National Commission on Human Rights. Several countries have preceded us with regard to the last topic, but we have finally succeeded in finalizing these two ministries: the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Human Rights. We would like to see these two ministries as being on the same level as the other ministries of State, and even among the most important ministries, in the hope of realizing their roles.”
He went on to say that “due to the increasing complexity of administrative arrangements, Lebanese citizens have been unable to protect their rights, especially when they feel they are the victims of injustice caused by officials of state administrations. Thus, it has been shown that in many countries, it is imperative to help the citizen who has exhausted all means to obtain his/her rights, and this is why several countries have designated ombudsmen. Sweden is an example. It has established one in 1809; and the task of the latter is to supervise the performance of duties by administrations and their respect to laws, freedoms and fundamental rights. The Ombudsman also contributes to the achievement of balance in the relationship between the State and the citizen. In other terms, the Ombudsman is similar to an institution committed to the service of the people, which is necessary for the exercise of democracy and the protection of freedoms. There are institutions that have the same function as the Ombudsman and that are dispersed in all the regions of the world, and whose number exceeds 100 institutions. In Spain, for example, this institution is called the people’s protector, in Portugal it is the commissioner for justice, in France, it is called Ombudsman, while in Quebec, it’s called the citizen’s protector. An international body has also been set up to unify all these institutions and strengthen cooperation between them. This means that Lebanon must have its own Ombudsman that will strive to improve and strengthen the relationship established between the citizen and the state. The need is urgent and has even become a national demand that is essential for every citizen complaining about being unable to pass on his/her voice to the competent authorities.”
He also stated that “the plan for administrative reform, which has already been developed by the Ministry of State for Administrative Development- and we hope to participate in future forums on this subject, called for the designation of an Ombudsman, whose aim is to strengthen the confidence of the citizen towards the State and the administrations. This project was originally inspired by the French model, which is the closest to the political climate in Lebanon. Moreover, this institution, the Ombudsman, has been a success in the majority of countries. The Ombudsman is in fact the partner of the State, which guarantees its credibility. It also remains, first and foremost, the symbol of civilization of the State, as well as an aspect of the rule of law.”
Finally, Al-Hashem concluded by saying that “the Lebanese Parliament has already announced the draft national plan on human rights. Discussions on some reforms have taken a long time, and a few are still polemical, including the electoral law, the validation of a female quota… However, following the adoption of the draft plan by the Plenary Assembly of the Council, the greatest challenge remains to be addressed: implementation. This step was followed by the adoption of Law No. 62 by the Parliament on 27/11/2016 to establish the National Commission on Human Rights, which includes the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. This was based on the United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for the establishment of a National Commission for Human Rights to protect and promote human rights standards. It should be noted that the Bar Association participates in the appointment of six members with experience in the field of criminal law, human rights or common law, as well as six members with experience in international humanitarian law. These members will be appointed in equal parts by the Beirut and Tripoli Bar Associations, in the hope that the promulgation of the implementing decrees and the appointment of the members of the Commission will be in accordance with the provisions of the law.”

The Minister of Justice, Attorney Salim Jreissati, delivered a speech in which he expressed that "in the heart of this old building, our hope is born. It is our starting point, to which we return. It is the Bar Association, the mother of all associations and the second wing of justice. Today, I have returned to stand as a minister of justice in a confident and promising presidential era, an era that is committed to restoring the rule of law and responsibility, and protecting human rights as well as public and private freedoms. I therefore convey to you the greetings of the President of this era, General Michel Aoun, and what he entrusted to me when he became aware of my intervention this morning.”
He added that “we want the defense of human beings, their rights and fundamental freedoms to be the center of the concerns of the Bar Association, or otherwise its only concern. The organization of today's workshop, at the Bar Association of Beirut is the greatest evidence that the Bar Association has taken the initiative to raise the issues concerning the protection and strengthening of human rights in Lebanon and to ensure that they are respected in all fields.”
Attorney Jreissati went on to say that "both the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister have paid particular attention to this issue. This was reflected in the constitution of the government and the allocation of ministerial portfolios to human rights, women's rights and displaced persons. The establishment of these three ministries coincided with the approval of Law No. 62 by the Parliament on 27/10/2016, regarding the establishment of the National Commission on Human Rights, including the Committee for the prevention of torture. This Commission has several missions, including protecting and strengthening human rights, in accordance with adopted international constitutional standards, as well as monitoring violations, receiving complaints and ensuring that they are resolved.”
He continued adding that “the Parliament has promulgated on 4/2/2005, the Law No. 664 on the creation of another institution, namely the Ombudsman, who is in charge of facilitating relations of citizens with public administrations and institutions and of helping resolve disputes arising from this relationship, including disputes arising from the encroachment of public authority on human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Ombudsman was only born today. However, at the request of the President of the Republic, the Government will approve the decree implementing this law and will initiate the necessary commitments in order to benefit from, manage and assist the Ombudsman, so that the latter can put an end to the abuse of public authority or to corruption, which has become, unfortunately, synonymous with public service. In addition, the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) was entrusted with the mission of defending women and strengthening their rights in order to eradicate all forms of discrimination against women. Each of these institutions, within the limits of the legal powers entrusted to it, is concerned with the protection of human rights in general and with the protection of women's rights in particular as well as the rights of displaced persons.”
He added that "there is also the role of the Ministry of Justice in the protection and strengthening of human rights in all areas, including the measures taken to prohibit and prevent torture; those in the area of the protection of the rights of women, children and displaced persons, with a view to their return to safety; and finally those in the area of the protection of fundamental freedoms, both public and private. The Ministry can also play an important role with regards to the rights of people suffering from mental or physical illnesses by promoting human rights and protecting human beings.”
He also asked, "Is the distribution of these areas a positive sign that reflects a Lebanese reality protecting human rights? Or will this distribution lead to the divergence and dispersion of prerogatives, which negatively affects the reality of human rights and the freedom of human beings?” He added that "this goes without saying. Charters, constitutions and treaties are drawn up in the interest of public and private rights, and laws are born out of hardships, adversities, needs and conflicts. All this is the basis on which is built what is called general and long-term stability.”
Minister Jreissati finally answered questions with questions about the “role of these institutions the power of each of them and the determination of the nature of the relationship that connects them: is it then a complementary relationship? Can it be conflicting, or at least competitive? Is it the responsibility of these institutions, based on national responsibilities, to coordinate and cooperate with each other in order to ensure better protection of human rights in Lebanon and a greater guarantee of humans’ fundamental freedoms?”

For his part, Achim Vogt, the regional representative of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, took the floor and welcomed “the cooperation on this activity with the Bar Association, which will monitor the results in light of the development of the human rights situation and of what happened recently in Lebanon.”
He went on to say that “there were uncertainties about the role of the Institute of Human Rights and the role of the Ombudsman.”
He also expressed his joy at “participating in this activity”, stressing that “the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, this non-governmental organization, is closely linked to democratic and social values.” Mr. Vogt then said that “we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our presence in Lebanon. And during all these years, human beings were the objective of our activity.”
He added that “there is a new dynamic in Lebanon, which could offer the opportunity to move forward in the field of human rights, and achieve remarkable progress. This is what we notice through the participation of concerned persons today.”
Mr. Vogt went on to say that “Lebanon is the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture. There will be a joint effort between the national bodies and the Ombudsman, bearing in mind that there is now a Ministry for Human Rights. Therefore, cooperation will be very important.”
He then asked a question about “the true role of these institutions; will they help achieve the human rights standards in Lebanon? Will these institutions be able to work independently to promote human rights, in accordance with international conventions? “All these questions are important, but they might have no answers”, he said.
Mr Vogt concluded by hoping that “this cooperation will find answers to the questions”, before thanking the Bar Association and the Institute of Human Rights.

The Director of the Institute, Elizabeth Zakharia Sioufi, took the floor and stated that "Lebanon is living today in the field of human rights, an unprecedented situation: a Ministry for Human Rights and a Ministry for Women’s Rights. It is noteworthy that the latter denomination has been well chosen, since it confirms that women also enjoy all human rights, but what they seek is to benefit from these rights just as any other human being.”
She also added that "the National Commission on Human Rights has a committee for the prevention of torture, whose members are currently being appointed, in accordance with the mechanisms set out in the established law, which also fell into oblivion. As for the Ombudsman, he/she has a legal entity since 4/2/2005, which is the date of promulgation of the law No. 664 that created it. But the Ombudsman does not exist effectively, as he/she has not been designated since the promulgation of the law, despite the fact that the latter mentions in its last article that it comes into force as of its publication.”
Mrs. Sioufi went on to say that “along with these mechanisms, the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights plays a key role in the drafting of human rights laws. This Commission is responsible for monitoring the proper implementation of these projects, after approval, starting with the right of control and accountability of the Parliament.”
She also called for “communication between the various bodies, in the absence of the Ombudsman, in order to avoid overlap with respect to human rights issues”, while congratulating the Lebanese people for “the establishment of the two ministries”, noting “cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation” and wishing “the success of the workshop, and the designation of an Ombudsman.”
Mrs. Sioufi finally concluded that “Lebanon, as it moves towards an improved human rights system, is the top ranks of the global protection of fundamental rights. And what strengthens our Country is its unity in the first place, but also its active and continuous efforts to build and develop its experience in dialogue and conciliation, so that it becomes an example of respect of human rights and a platform to defend human rights issues in the Middle East and around the world.”
Then the workshop sessions began.


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