Group urges Lebanon to protect Syrian refugees

AP News
Posted: Feb 07, 2013 9:48 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon has failed to enact political reforms to curb human rights abuses, promote women's rights, and protect migrants and refuges as the country grapples with spillover effects from civil war in neighboring Syria, an international human rights group said Thursday.

Human Rights Watch hailed the Lebanese government for keeping its borders open for tens of thousands of Syrians who fled their homes because of fighting between rebels and government troops. However, the U.S.-based watchdog called on authorities to do more to protect refugees from being detained by security services or deported despite a risk of persecution by the Syrian regime.

Lebanon has experienced an unprecedented influx of refugees from the Syrian conflict, which started nearly two years ago. Unlike in Turkey and Jordan, where Syrian refugees find shelter in camps, most Syrians in Lebanon live with host families, often in difficult circumstances and with very limited resources.

Nearly 100,000 Syrians have registered with U.N. refugee agency in Lebanon, although the registration does not grant them legal status in the country, meaning that they risk detention and deportation. Given the influence Syria and its feared security services have wielded in the country over past decades, many Syrians, particularly those who support the opposition, feel unsafe in Lebanon. They live in fear of being repatriated, the rights group said, despite the risk of retribution.

Lebanon's governing elites have remained largely unaffected by the wave of popular dissent in the Middle East that has toppled some of the region's authoritarian regimes and loosened the grip of others, leaving the country on the margins of the so-called Arab Spring, said Nadim Houry, Deputy Middle East director at the New York-based group.

"The Lebanese government and parliament missed opportunities to advance human rights by sitting on, or rejecting, key reforms and proposal," Houry said at the release of Lebanon section of HRW's annual report. He urged lawmakers to establish a mechanism to visit and monitor detention sites in which former prisoners allege abuses and torture occurred, and amend laws that discriminate against women.

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"Discriminatory provisions that significantly harm and disadvantage women continue to exist in personal status law, determined by an individual's religious affiliation, the group said. Women suffer from unequal access to divorce, and if it is granted, are often discriminated against in child custody proceedings.

Unlike men, Lebanese women cannot pass their nationality to foreign husbands and their children, and they also suffer discrimination in inheritance laws, the group said.