Pascal Khodeir

This report was prepared by Pascal Khodeir, a fellow within the Youth for Rights Fellowship program organized by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. The report is the outcome of a two-month practical training period at Daraj as part of the second phase of the fellowship program. Prior to this practical training, the researcher underwent another two-month training on international law and human rights during the first phase of the fellowship program.

Introduction

Economic prosperity refers to a country’s economic growth, security and competitiveness. It is also a key determinant of one’s quality of life. As such, economic prosperity and human rights are closely related, as the former facilitates the latter by creating the conditions for the enjoyment of economic, social, civil, and political rights. A strong economy also provides the resources for a government to invest in programs and policies that promote and protect human rights, while economic failure can have detrimental effects on human rights.

Lebanon has faced an economic and monetary crisis since late 2019, which was triggered by a combination of factors including the global pandemic, corruption, mismanagement, and political instability. According to the World Bank, the Lebanese crisis ranks among the “most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-19th century.” More importantly, it is the product of three decades of deliberate, reckless fiscal and monetary policy.

The crisis has led to a high inflation rate, devaluation, and widespread unemployment and poverty, all of which have affected the Lebanese in numerous ways and exacerbated existing human rights issues.

Additionally, Lebanon is facing a multitude of interconnected social, economic, and political challenges that have only intensified since 2019 and have led to a severe humanitarian crisis in the country. 

Lebanon has the highest concentration of refugees per capita, with more than one million Syrian refugees residing in the country. This has placed a strain on Lebanon’s already weak infrastructure, particularly in the areas of health, education, and housing. 

Furthermore, Lebanon has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world. The economic collapse, combined with social and political unrest, have led to multidimensional poverty reaching 82% and extreme multidimensional poverty reaching 40% in 2021 according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA).

 Lebanon has one of the highest public debt-to-GDP ratios in the world, which has only exacerbated the financial crisis.The current crisis, alongside the decades of economic mismanagement and corruption, has caused a massive public debt which hit $101.7 billion by September 2022. In addition, the currency has devalued, as the Lebanese pound lost over 90% of its pre-crisis value, making imports expensive, subsequently contributing to the rise in the cost of living and hyperinflation. As such, Lebanon’s annual inflation rate jumped to 264% by March 2023. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by more than 20% in 2020, reaching $23.13 billion in 2021, according to the World Bank.The country’s banking system is on the verge of collapse, while there has been a significant decline in living standards and an inflation rate of food commodities that touched 352.34% in 2023.

Moreover, the country has witnessed rising unemployment rates, particularly among young people, according to the International Labor Organization.The economic crisis is largely attributed to corruption, mismanagement and economic policies that have always favored a small elite at the expense of the broader population. 

The main challenges regarding the political situation are instability, corruption, and regional tensions. The political system is based on a power-sharing agreement among the country’s religious sects, which has led to frequent changes of government as political factions are often unable to agree on key issues. This instability has hindered progress on economic and social reforms and contributed to the country’s current crisis. 

In addition, corruption is pervasive in Lebanon, with political leaders accused of using public funds for personal gain and engaging in cronyism and nepotism. In 2022, Lebanon scored 24/100 on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) issued by Transparency International and ranked 154 out of 180 countries around the world.

Lebanon’s geopolitical position in the Middle East has made it vulnerable to regional tensions, particularly those between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These tensions have at times spilled over into Lebanon, leading to political and sectarian violence. The situation has been further intensified by the Syrian conflict which began in 2011. 

The economic and monetary crisis has led to an increase in poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity. The devaluation of the Lebanese pound and consequent price hike for basic goods and services has made many unaffordable for most Lebanese. In parallel, the shortage of medication and other basic goods like gasoline and fuel for electricity has paralyzed the country’s day-to-day processes. 

The combination of factors has resulted in a true humanitarian crisis, leaving many people unable to access such necessities as food, shelter, and healthcare. Additionally, the crisis has resulted in the closure of many businesses, leading to a rise in unemployment rates.

The crisis has had a disproportionate impact on women’s rights. Women are more likely to be affected by poverty and unemployment, and the crisis has exacerbated existing gender inequalities. Women are also more likely to be affected by the closure of businesses, as many women run small businesses in the country. The crisis has furthermore led to an increase in gender-based violence, including domestic violence and sexual harassment.

Many Lebanese took to the streets in protest against the government’s handling of the crisis, which was often met with violence from the security forces, with reports of excessive use of force, arbitrary arrests, and torture. Finally, the crisis has led to a deterioration of the rule of law and an erosion of the country’s democratic institutions.

This report aims to analyze the impact of the economic and monetary crisis on basic human rights in Lebanon through desk research and interviews with experts. Desk research was the first step in the data collection process in order to identify the human rights that were impacted and determine the interviewees. 

The interviews were conducted with experts in the field of law, politics, and human rights to better understand what led to these violations, analyze the situation in accordance with international human rights law, and provide recommendations accordingly to address the issues. 

The Crisis and Its Consequences

The severe economic and monetary crisis that has held Lebanon in its grip since 2019 has had disastrous consequences. Many Lebanese are unable to secure their social and economic rights amid the deepening crisis, with low-income households bearing the brunt.

The shortage of essential goods such as medication and food has even put the right to life at risk. Rising inflation and scarcity of goods have made it difficult for the most vulnerable communities to access essential services, which has led to a further increase in poverty, malnutrition, and health issues. 

The rapid currency devaluation, as well as supply-chain bottlenecks and fuel shortages, have caused food prices to dramatically increase by 483% in January 2022 compared to the year before. By June 2022, they remained high at 332%. 

As the Lebanese Central Bank (BDL) ran out of foreign reserves and lifted subsidies on the import of most vital goods, prices for electricity, water, and gas skyrocketed, increasing by 595% between June 2021 and June 2022. The price hikes turned essential utilities into luxury items that many can only afford in limited quantities, if at all.

According to the United Nations, the human rights in Lebanon further deteriorated in 2021, as more than 80% of the country’s residents did not have access to health, education, adequate housing, and electricity.

Since the start of 2021, over 400,000 more people have fallen into poverty due to rising food insecurity, high unemployment, stagnating household incomes, and poor access to health services and education. This estimate is based on the Household Deprivation Score (HDS)¹. By December 2021, 53% of Lebanon’s resident population, corresponding to 2.06 million people and 436,500 families, needed social assistance. 

In January 2021, food insecurity affected 30% of the population. By December 2021, 57% of Lebanese families faced severe challenges to access food and 76% of households employed coping mechanisms affecting the capacity of families to generate income, decreasing their resilience to future shocks. 

About 33% of the Lebanese population could not meet minimum dietary requirements, over ten percentage points above what was recorded in earlier rounds of data collection. As such, dietary diversity was reduced. For instance, the number of households able to consume meat, poultry, fish, or eggs at least once a week declined from 82% in June 2020 to 65% in December 2021.

Food insecurity is strongly linked to unemployment and unstable livelihoods, lack of access to health services, education, and shelter. Households headed by women, large families with many dependents, and/or the presence of a household member with chronic illness or disability were more likely to be linked to food insecurity. 

A national survey by Human Rights Watch between November 2021 and January 2022 found that the median household reported a monthly income of just US$122, while 70% of households said they had difficulty making ends meet, and 22% said they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat. 

The crisis has impacted most people, yet the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights found that women, children, migrant workers, Syrian and Palestinian refugees, and people with disabilities were particularly affected.

In January 2023, around two million people in Lebanon, including 1.29 million Lebanese residents and 700,000 Syrian refugees, suffered some form of food insecurity as a result of the multiple crises afflicting the country, with the situation expected to get worse in the months ahead according to UN agencies.

Lebanon’s first ever Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Food Insecurity Analysis predicted the situation would deteriorate between January and April of this year, with 2.26 million people (some 1.46 million Lebanese residents and 800,000 refugees) expected to be in “crisis” or worse, needing urgent assistance. 

As the crisis deepened, many people resorted to dangerous migration routes towards Europe. In April, a boat carrying around 80 Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians sank off the coast of Tripoli following an interception by the Lebanese navy. Only 48 survived.

The crisis has furthermore led to a significant increase in the cost of housing, making it difficult for many citizens to afford decent housing. The lack of affordable housing has resulted in an increase in homelessness and informal settlements, leading to a violation of the right to housing.

Despite being a human right recognized by international law, obtaining and sustaining adequate housing has always been a major challenge in Lebanon. Ever since the country’s independence in 1943, the state has not adopted a general policy to secure adequate housing for low-income people. Housing in Lebanon is only available through the vagaries of the market. 

Furthermore, the state has abandoned any role in producing affordable housing, encouraging rentals, or controlling rents. Ownership through soft loans is the only option low-income Lebanese have to buy a home, yet 80% of families do not meet the minimum home-loan eligibility requirements. Since the crisis erupted, the problem has intensified. 

Many tenants have been forced to vacate their homes due to a significant increase in rent prices, as their meager salaries render them unable to afford the higher cost; meanwhile, the state remains steadfast in its indifference to opportunistic landlords driven by greed, which has led to a great number of displaced people in the midst of the country’s current unparalleled economic crisis. The dramatic increase in poverty over the past three years and radical rise in rent prices has placed additional strain on the ability of already vulnerable populations to access adequate shelter. Approximately two million people need assistance to have safe and dignified shelter, a two percent increase from early 2022.

Right to Health

The economic and monetary crisis has also had a severe impact on the right to health in Lebanon. With the collapse of the healthcare system, many Lebanese are unable to access essential healthcare services, including medication. The high cost of healthcare has also made it difficult for many people to obtain proper treatment. The healthcare system was already underfunded and understaffed before the crisis, and the situation has significantly worsened since, with hospitals struggling to provide basic medical services due to a lack of funds and resources.

Patients with chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, are finding it increasingly difficult to access essential medication, and hospitals have limited resources to provide treatment. The rise in prices has also caused many people to delay seeking medical attention until their conditions worsen. 

In addition to the shortage in medicines and medical supplies, the healthcare sector is crumbling due to power cuts and the emigration of thousands of Lebanese doctors and nurses. The National Social Security Fund, the largest employment-based provider of social services, is almost bankrupt and has not reimbursed subscribers for their medical bills.

The Ministry of Health’s budget is not more than three percent of the national budget, and with no due diligence applied, this money is not spent fairly among citizens. The Ministry has no objective criteria for determining how citizens and residents should benefit from health services, which leaves people at the mercy of the ministry employees’ discretion, while the Central Inspection—which is tasked with uncovering any violation of applicable laws and regulations—has been nonfunctional for years.

The ministry has not received any complaint regarding bribery since 2017, even though there are many suspicions of inflated bills issued by hospitals to ensure that they are being paid by the ministry, which has been delaying such payments since the start of the crisis. The decline in the social class of doctors from upper-middle to lower-middle class due to the crisis has led to the migration of around 3,000 doctors, while approximately 2,000 nurses have left the country since the crisis began. Furthermore, drug prices and medications for chronic diseases increased by 236% between 2017 and 2022. Thus, the medical sector faces a high risk that remains unmitigated.

It is clear that more transparency is needed at the Ministry of Health. Of utmost importance is the implementation of objective criteria and openness about the specifics of these criteria—about how and to whom these criteria should be applied. In the absence of an effective national authority to combat corruption, the ministry must establish an independent and sustainable mechanism for objections. Objective criteria and an objection mechanism should guarantee a reduction of corruption at the ministry and help offer equal access to healthcare to all Lebanese. 

Right to Work

The economic crisis has led to high levels of unemployment, particularly among young people. Many have lost their jobs or face significant pay cuts. The decline in job opportunities and income has affected the right to work and consequently, the right to a decent standard of living. 

For instance, despite increased support from donor countries, Lebanese soldiers, who saw their real wages fall from $900 to less than $50 a month, have only received minimal pay increases. As a result, they have had to take on extra jobs, for example as delivery service workers, or quit. Within the Internal Security Forces (ISF), desertions, inability to reach duty stations due to increased fuel costs, and the need to reduce shifts to allow members to do other jobs has reduced their ability to meet security demands. 

The lack of job opportunities at large has also led to a significant brain drain in the country, as many educated Lebanese have left the country in search of work elsewhere.

Chronically under-funded, Lebanon’s social protection system suffers from large coverage gaps. Since the financial crisis, Lebanon has only introduced one new social assistance program, the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN), financed by the World Bank, which provided cash transfers to 150,000 households during 2022.

Figures of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and International Labor Organization (ILO) show that the unemployment rate reached 35% in 2022, which means around 480,000 people in the labor force are unemployed: 32.7% of whom are women, 28% of whom are men, and 47.8% of whom are youths. An additional 300,000 members of the labor force do not have permanent work contracts.

While the country’s unemployment rates had been on the rise prior to the crisis, the crisis caused a sudden increase, and further complicating things is Lebanon’s inefficient labor court. Decisions by the Labor Arbitration Council take too long to be issued, and though the law does not require hiring a lawyer to appear before the Council, workers invariably require the help of a labor law expert whose services they cannot afford. Guarantees to protect employees who go to court from being dismissed and aid them in getting another job are insufficient. As long as there are no proper guarantees and no court efficiency, labor rights will remain in decline.

Women’s Rights

The multipronged crisis in Lebanon has disproportionately impacted marginalized communities, including refugees, people with disabilities, children, older people, migrant workers, individuals from the LGBTQ+ community, and women. In her work, feminist activist and Lebanon Branch Director of the Arab Institute for Human Rights Joumana Merhy has approached the topic from two sides—women in general and working women in particular.

Merhy has examined how the collapse of all economic sectors and deterioration in the level of social services has had a significant impact on families in Lebanon, including women affected by increasing levels of domestic violence as well as by the phenomenon of men abandoning their homes and leaving their families without a breadwinner, making it the responsibility of women to support the family financially. Yet many of these women are not qualified to work, which in turn increases their risk of being subjected to exploitation; these women are pushed to work in deplorable conditions, and as a result, entire families are deprived of the right to earn a decent living.

Working women in Lebanon are in a fragile situation, Merhy contends, whether employed in the public sector—due to its inconsistent provision of pensions and end-of-service compensation, especially following the collapse of the national currency—or other sectors where they lack social or economic rights due to the mostly seasonal or impermanent nature of their work. The tenuous state of working women in the country has worsened since the crisis began.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, women were subjected to arbitrary dismissal from their jobs without receiving compensation. Reports have shown that men on average need about a year to return to work, while women need three to five years. In addition, the value of wages has collapsed. Many women register for social security with lower wages in favor of the employer.

Although women and men were both exposed to this crisis, the fragile situation of women in the nation prior to the crisis has led to the intensification of their marginalization and discrimination during the crisis; Merhy’s work has highlighted the situation of women working in the agricultural sector, which is not subject to the labor law. Their work is seasonal, their wages are low, and their problems are exacerbated by the crisis, she says.

The crisis also caused human rights violations against female migrant workers in Lebanon. As families were frequently unable to pay these women their wages given their own low salaries, many women were left on the streets without money for even food or water. This was not only a violation of rights, but also a violation of human dignity. The non-compliance of their work with the labor law, Merhy says, also makes them vulnerable to the deprivation of rights and to not being granted legal protection.

Merhy has recommended enhancing the protection of working women, especially against sexual and economic exploitation, and has stressed the need for labor policies to protect working women in all sectors from arbitrary dismissal and discrimination, both of which see significant increases during crises.

Right to Education

The compounded crises in Lebanon in the past years have put severe strains on an already struggling education system, thus severely hampering the right to education. In fact, many schools and universities were forced to close due to the lack of funding.

Public schools in Lebanon are struggling under the weight of the ongoing economic crisis. Thousands of public school teachers have been sporadically on strike since January 2022, demanding higher wages, transportation stipends, and better teaching conditions. Private educational institutions are also struggling financially, leading to staff reductions, salary cuts, and deteriorating facilities. 

Schools have been struggling to operate amidst teacher resignations and strikes, power failures, internet cuts, and inflation. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and Syrian students have not been able to get an education, as public schools have been largely closed for the last three years. 

Meanwhile, the high cost of private education and a general lack of resources have further exacerbated the problem, leading to a decrease in enrollment rates and academic achievements. A significant number of students are dropping out of school and university.  

The social and economic crisis is turning into an education catastrophe, with vulnerable children facing a real risk of never returning to school. According to a report by the World Bank, Lebanon needs to urgently embrace a comprehensive reform agenda that puts students at the center of education and prioritizes quality education for all. Low levels of learning and a skills mismatch in the job market have put the future of Lebanese children at risk.

“Even prior to the crisis, the Lebanese government had been struggling to dedicate enough resources to support social and economic rights and fund social programs,” said a senior manager at a human rights organization in Lebanon, who wished to remain anonymous. “Plans were never fully funded, and there was a lack of discussion, while the state’s obligation towards rights [should be] to respect, protect, and fulfill.”

According to the senior manager, the crisis only exacerbated the problems faced by the Lebanese government, as reliance on public services increased. Lebanon witnessed an increase in demand for public social services and a decrease in the capacity to offer them. He cited the fact that the sector witnessed a huge transfer of students from private to public schools without public capacity to cope with the increased demand as an example. Due to the cost of education rising significantly, it has become difficult for many families to afford to send their children to private schools.

A World Bank report on the 2020-2021 school year alone states that some 55,000 students transitioned from private to public education as a result of financial hardship. “To a certain extent, the crisis has had a positive impact on social rights, as it has drawn attention to social welfare and the need to revise and reform subsidies. The mentality of the public has changed. Governmental obligations are more obvious now, so it’s time for the government to have a more genuine policy dialogue to co-create social protection policies,” the manager stated.

“We are at this intersection where we really need to have proper policy making to be able to cope with the increase in demand,” he added, “especially as it is not going to get any easier, since we are heading towards increased limitations on subsidies and increases in taxation.”

According to humanitarian agencies, in the 2020-21 school year, at least 700,000 out of two million school-aged children in Lebanon were out of school. In some areas, child labor rates rose to 45% despite primary education being compulsory under both Lebanese law and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

According to Human Rights Watch, between 2017 and 2021, donors gave more than $1.12 billion for education programs included in the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, which guides the international humanitarian response to around 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. More than half of these funds were directed to Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education. But in light of the absence of clear criteria followed by the ministry and corruption, which has been on the rise since 2012, we are still witnessing huge violations of the right to education of both Lebanese citizens and other residents.

Civil Rights

The economic and monetary crisis has also affected civil rights and fundamental freedoms. According to legal expert Ali Mourad, the crisis has stimulated people’s interest in public affairs, as evidenced by the active participation in the May 2022 parliamentary elections. The regime is aiming to pose restrictions on freedom of expression because it contradicts their interests as well as those of the banking system, he has said. Perhaps the most prominent manifestation of these restrictions today is obvious in the recent procedures² of the Lawyers Bar Association and in the attempts to hinder the work of the Lebanese Judges Association“One of the most prominent violations of civil and political rights Lebanon is witnessing today is the postponement of the municipal elections, which constitutes a direct violation of the basic right to vote,” exclaimed Mourad. 

Mourad has called the power vacuum, which exists due to the failure to elect a president and form a government, and the country’s disabled parliament “violations of citizens’ ability to influence reform,” saying the vacuum is a tool used to violate citizens’ rights. He has said that the violations of social and economic rights, which have been exacerbated by the crisis, have had a direct impact on political rights and freedoms, as the regime is trying to pick itself up by striking at freedom of expression.

Lebanon is “a state in decay that is unable to complete any transaction,” Mourad maintains. “For example, regarding the municipal elections, the number of candidates has usually been around 50,000. Today, the state is unable to ensure that 50,000 citizens have access to judicial records and are able to register and submit a candidacy application.”

The unavailability of services needed to obtain one’s political rights does not justify postponing the elections, but illustrates the reality of government services amidst the ongoing crisis, and Mourad characterizes the country’s big problem with justice as the consequence of a systemic breakdown in the judiciary’s inability to play its role. The judiciary has failed to address the crisis and defend people’s rights, and many complications have arisen as a result—the most prominent of which he asserts is probably the failure to pass the law on the independence of the judiciary.

Impunity still exists at all levels, Mourad has said, noting that all legal attempts were obstructed by the courts—mainly the higher courts. These incidents took place at the beginning of the banking crisis; though judges’ initial decisions were made in the interest of depositors, the decisions were all ultimately blocked by appeals courts. Also, all attempts to prosecute the Central Bank governor and heads of banks were obstructed, revealing the intersection between politicians, bankers and certain judges.”

It is obvious to Mourad that the reason behind the Lebanese judiciary’s disciplinary council’s decision to dismiss Judge Ghada Aoun from her job as Mount Lebanon’s Public Prosecutor was not due to her violating the law, but to her addressing issues that could open cases against people protected by the regime. The BDL governor and bank presidents are still protected by Lebanon’s judicial system, and the only initiative to prosecute is a European one. In addition, Mourad points out that three years after Lebanon’s economic collapse, no one has been accused, held liable, or tried. (The same can be said for the Beirut Port blast: No one has been accused or tried, and the Lebanese still don’t know what happened to the victims.)

The Lebanese, he has said, are facing a violation of their “right to justice and right to know what happened and how”. Mourad’s work on the topic has focused on the matter of freedom of expression regarding the dominance of banks and the political class over most of the media, and on the summons seen outside Beirut and in areas such as Chouf. The Cybercrime Bureau is still demanding that people remove certain social media posts, while political activists still face harassment for expressing their opinions and concerns.

Civil and Political Rights

Lawyer Layal Sakr, founder of SEEDS for Legal Initiatives, is convinced that the state does not want to address the crisis and is using methods to suppress freedoms, not only to restore its power and authority, but also to distract public opinion away from the state and its obligations. 

In grappling with the country’s crisis, poverty and lack of a future, Sakr holds that the regime is responsible for distracting the public by promoting intolerance, citing the Minister of Interior’s recent decisions against the rights of the LGBT community as an example.

The repression of lawyers and judges prevents them from dealing with corruption, she has stated. “International law with its many conventions, particularly those related to corruption and illicit enrichment, recognizes the right and duty of civil society to expose corruption by having access to information and passing it on in an appropriate manner.”

According to Sakr, the essence of the democratic system lies in a plurality of opinions and the ability to criticize. Consequently, the criterion for measuring democracy is reflected in the extent to which opinions are criminalized. Lebanon is witnessing an increase in this type of criminalization, as its people have “recently witnessed the murders of journalists and accusations of treason against every person with a different opinion; all of this indicates that our democracy has become hybrid, and that we are heading towards an authoritarian regime.”

The lack of political will to hold the municipal elections on time constitutes a violation of people’s political rights, Sakr has asserted. Postponing the elections under the pretext of lack of funding—while numerous donors such as the United Nations Development Programme have, in reality, offered funding—shows that there is no political will to hold them, which violates the political right to vote. This indicates to Sakr that the Lebanese people “are under an authoritarian regime that resorts to suppressing the freedoms of the Lebanese in general and marginalized groups in particular, and that this repression is used as a means to distract public opinion from the crimes committed by the regime”.

Sakr has insisted on the need to respect pluralism, privacy and freedom, and to preserve the nature of the country, which has always been a small oasis of freedom in the region: “It is disgraceful that Lebanon, which participated in the development of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, today—in 2023—witnesses this repression of freedom and rights.”

International Law

The aforementioned rights and freedoms are protected by the following international treaties: Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR):

The right to life and the right to adequate living are guaranteed by the UDHR in Article 3, which states: “Everyone has the right to life.”

In addition, Article 25 states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” 

Similarly, Article 11 of the ICESCR states: 

“1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right (…).

2. The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international cooperation, the measures, including specific programmes, which are needed: 

(a) To improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food (…) 

(b) Taking into account the problems of both food-importing and food-exporting countries, to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.” 

Article 12 of the same covenant states:  

“1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. 

Article 23 of the UDHR declares: 

“1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. 

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. 

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. 

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

In addition, Articles 6 and 7 of the ICESCR state:

“1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. 

2. The steps to be taken by a State Party to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include technical and vocational guidance and training programmes, policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment under conditions safeguarding fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual.” 

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work which ensure, in particular: 

(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with: (i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work; (ii) A decent living for themselves and their families in accordance with the provisions of the present Covenant; 

(b) Safe and healthy working conditions; 

(c) Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted in his employment to an appropriate higher level, subject to no considerations other than those of seniority and competence…”

Article 26 of the UDHR guarantees children’s right to education: 

“1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. 

2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. 

3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” 

Furthermore, the ICESCR affirms this right in Articles 10 paragraphs 1, 13 and 14.

“The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that: 1. The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family, which is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children…” 

“1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education… 

2. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that, with a view to achieving the full realization of this right: 

(a) Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all; 

(b) Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education; 

(c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education; 

(d) Fundamental education shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education; 

(e) The development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved.” 

In addition, in Article 10 paragraph 3, the ICESCR states:

“Special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of all children and young persons without any discrimination for reasons of parentage or other conditions. Children and young persons should be protected from economic and social exploitation. Their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law. States should also set age limits below which the paid employment of child labour should be prohibited and punishable by law.”

The UDHR and ICCPR guarantee fundamental freedoms as well as civil and political rights, which include the right to vote, the right to government services, and the right to access justice.

Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the UDHR protect such fundamental liberties as freedom of thought, expression and opinion as well as the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. 

Article 19 states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The ICCPR affirms these freedoms in Articles 18, 19 and 22.
Article 19 states:

 “1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: 

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; 

(b) For the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals.”

The UDHR and ICCPR recognize the right to vote, the right to government services and the right to access to justice. So, the UDHR states in Article 8: 

“Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.”

Article 21 declares: “1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. 

2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country. 

3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” 

The ICCPR declares: “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in Article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: 

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; 

(c) To have access, in general terms of equality, to public service in his country.” 

Conclusions

The Lebanese state has failed to take appropriate steps to ensure the right to an adequate standard of living. Amid the economic and monetary crisis, people in Lebanon are struggling with food insecurity, housing issues, and poor living conditions. As such, Lebanon is violating Article 25 of the UDHR and Article 11 of the ICESCR.

The economic and monetary crisis has caused the medical sector to collapse. Facing the crisis and being highly corrupt, the Lebanese government, particularly the Ministry of Health, does not follow an objective criterion to ensure all people in Lebanon have an equal right to healthcare. As such, the Lebanese state is failing to take steps needed to achieve the full realization of the right to healthcare as obliged by Article 25 of the UDHR and Article 12 of the ICESCR.

Amidst the economic and monetary crisis, many people in Lebanon, both citizens and residents, many of whom are women, have been arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs or face economic exploitation. The Lebanese authorities, mainly the Labor Arbitration Council, are inefficient in performing their duties, and fall short to protect the right to work recognized in Article 23 of the UDHR and Articles 6 and 7 of the ICESCR.

The economic and monetary crisis has had a severe impact on the already fragile Lebanese education sector. The crisis has caused an increase in demand for public schooling, while there has been a decrease in the capacity to cope with this demand. The failure of the Ministry of Education to manage the situation, along with suspicions of corruption within the ministry, have led to obstructing many public schools which are faced with resignations and strikes, from performing. These failures have also left a large number of vulnerable children at risk of never returning to school. This constitutes a violation of the right to education and the state’s obligations mentioned in Article 26 of the UDHR and Articles 10, 13, and 14 of the ICESCR.

The rates of child labor in Lebanon have been increasing since the beginning of the crisis, putting children at risk of social and economic exploitation. The Lebanese government is not taking measures to tackle the issue thus violating its obligations under Article 10 of the ICESCR.

Mismanagement within Lebanon’s public administration has led to violating the people’s right to government services and, consequently, their right to vote and participate in public affairs. The government has used the economic and monetary crisis as an excuse to postpone municipal elections, violating Article 21 of the UDHR and the ICCPR.

The Lebanese regime, in order to regain power, is suppressing freedoms and prosecuting activists and journalists who publish opposing ideas. Even the freedom of lawyers and judges is being suppressed. Meanwhile, those responsible for the economic and humanitarian catastrophe have not been prosecuted and are often protected by the government. Thus the government is violating all laws protecting the freedoms of opinion and expression which are recognized in Articles 18, 19, and 20 of the UDHR and the ICCPR, while encouraging impunity.

Recommendations

Taking into consideration Lebanon’s ranking on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, any humanitarian aid from states or agencies should be donated to the people directly. If not, the Lebanese authorities should be transparent and formulate objective criteria on how the aid will be distributed.

 The Ministry of Health must have objective criteria for providing services, in addition to an independent and sustainable objection mechanism for people who consider themselves eligible but do not have access. 

The Labor Arbitrary Council must be neutral and more efficient.

The authorities must follow up on the application of the labor law and must enact new laws to protect vulnerable individuals such as working women and migrant workers from social and economic exploitation. In addition, they must focus on implementing the laws that protect children from exploitation. 

The Ministry of Education must be transparent regarding its budget and spending, and must formulate plans to cope with the situation in public schools to preserve the rights of students and teachers, and save the Lebanese University from collapse. 

The law on the independence of the judiciary must be adopted as soon as possible for the judiciary to be able to perform its duties and protect people’s rights.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

¹HDS: a measure of non-monetary poverty developed by WFP Lebanon. The index ranks families based on the number of deprivations they face across five minimum living standards: food, health, education, shelter, and livelihoods.

² On 3 March 2023, the Beirut Bar Association (BBA) amended its code of ethics, requiring lawyers to obtain prior permission from the President of the BBA before engaging in any public or media appearances or discussing legal issues on social media, and banned lawyers from criticizing the President of the BBA and its council members. In the end of March, 13 lawyers submitted two appeals to the Court of Appeals, asking it to annul these amendments to the lawyers’ code of ethics, arguing that the BBA was not a competent authority because regulations restricting freedom of expression can only be passed by the legislative authority, that the amendments violated the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and that they failed to meet the principles of proportionality and necessity. The appeals also argued that the amendments effectively granted the BBA’s leadership legal immuprotected it from criticism in the media, and were incompatible with efforts to encourage the exposure of allegations of corruption. The Beirut Court of Appeal dismissed the decision: Lebanon: Court decision is a blow to freedom of expression and independence of lawyers – Amnesty International