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Sharp decline in Lebanon human rights, says HRW



Human rights in Lebanon have seen the most drastic deterioration in decades, according to the Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) World Report 2021.

The country’s poverty rate doubled in 2020 as a result of an unprecedented economic crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, and the 4 August Beirut port explosion.

“With each passing day, the lives of Lebanon’s citizens, migrants, and refugees is becoming more unbearable,” said Aya Majzoub, HRW’s Lebanon researcher.

The collapse of Lebanon’s currency, compounded by rapidly rising food and goods prices, has decimated people’s ability to afford basic necessities, including food, shelter and health care, the report said.

Marginalised communities, including low-income families, people with disabilities, migrants, refugees and LGBTQ people, were found to have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

While 88 per cent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon were found to be living in extreme poverty.

The human rights watchdog blames many of Lebanon’s woes on the government which, the report claims, has failed to develop a “timely, robust, or coordinated assistance plan” to the country’s problems.

“The political elite are still haggling over how to divide the shrinking spoils to enrich themselves while impoverishing the country,” Majzoub said.

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The government has failed to pay hospitals the funds it owes them, according to the report, diminishing medical professional’s ability to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The failure to reimburse hospitals with much needed funds and the country’s currency collapse has prevented medical centres from importing enough medicine to satisfy the population’s needs.

Lebanon’s authorities, the report added, have failed to protect women and girls from violence and discrimination.

The government has also fallen short in its obligation to protect migrant domestic workers, which number more than 250,000 in Lebanon.

A new migrant worker contract, which would have replaced the long-criticised kafala system, was suspended in late October.

The new contract would have codified the rights of foreign workers, who are excluded from labour laws, in Lebanon.

The court said the decision to suspend the planned implementation of the contract was taken because it could inflict “huge harm to the worker recruitment sector”.

HRW also condemned Lebanese authorities for their excessive use of force against anti-government protesters and continuing attacks on freedom of speech.

“Instead of holding law enforcement officials accountable, security agencies blamed each other for abuses,” the report claims.

The 761-page report went on to call on US President-elect Joe Biden to champion global human rights efforts during his four-year term in a way “more likely to survive future US administrations that might be less committed to human rights.”

READ: Lebanon to receive $246m emergency aid from the World Bank

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MEPs criticise Bahrain’s human rights violations



In a letter sent to the EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, 16 MEPs voiced their “deep concern” about the deterioration of human rights in Bahrain, MEP Karen Melchior tweeted last week.

The letter was sent to Borrel prior to his meeting with the Bahraini minister of foreign affairs.

“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing deterioration of human rights in Bahrain, following a year where, as highlighted by Human Rights Watch, there has been an ‘escalated repression’ of the Bahrain government against critics’,” the letter said.

“We therefore kindly urge you to take this opportunity to hold your Bahrain counterparts accountable for their human rights commitments by raising the cases of European-Bahrain dual citizens Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Sheikh Mohammad Habib Al-Muqdad and urging Bahrain to restore their moratorium on the death penalty,” the letter added.

The MEPs also drew attention to what they called the kingdom’s de facto suspension in 2017 of a moratorium on the death penalty, highlighting that five of six executions that have taken place were deemed arbitrary by UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard.

READ: IUMS leader praises Biden’s speech on rejection of racism, ethnic discrimination

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France must investigate air strike on Mali civilians, says HRW



Human Rights Watch (HRW) has demanded France open an investigation into a Mali air strike that locals say targeted a civilian wedding reception.

A report published by the rights watchdog yesterday said residents claimed the 3 January French air strike had hit a wedding party in the central southern village of Bounti, killing 19 people.

France has rejected the allegations, claiming their 3 January air strikes in an area north of Bounti led to the deaths of 40 adult men, among them 30 Islamist fighters.

“Serious allegations that any civilians were killed in air strikes need to be promptly investigated to determine the legality of the strikes under the laws of war,” said Jonathan Pedneault, crisis and conflict researcher at HRW.

Adding: “Malian and French authorities have an obligation under international law to ensure that a credible investigation is conducted thoroughly and impartially.”

HRW has urged France to cooperate with investigations opened by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission to Mali (MINUSMA) and Malian defence ministry officials.

The rights watchdog also called on the French government to investigate the strike, including the role within the chain of command itself.

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On 10 January, French Army Minister Florence Parly denied the allegations in an interview with France Inter.

Parly said she had personally verified there was “no wedding, no women, no children” at the site of the air strike, only “men and exclusively men.”

The French military said in a statement that the Operation Barkhane force conducted the strikes after a lengthy intelligence operation.

However, the statement admitted the target in question was only identified an hour before it was struck when a drone detected a motorcycle with two individuals joining a larger group.

Three Bounti residents told HRW the targeted event was a wedding that had been planned over a month earlier and that people from other towns and villages had travelled to attend.

The trio each independently told the rights watchdog that male wedding guests had gathered separately from the women because of strict gender segregation rules imposed by jihadists in the area.

“Suddenly, we heard the jet’s noise, and everything happened quickly,” a 68-year-old Bounti resident was quoted as saying.

Adding: “I heard a powerful detonation, boom, and then another detonation. I lost consciousness for a few minutes and when I woke up, my foot was bleeding because of shrapnel, and all around me were wounded and dead bodies.”

One of the residents told HRW he hopes for a “thorough investigation and protection” from being targeted in the future.

HRW said the French government should compensate civilian victims and their relatives, if the strike is found to have been unlawful.

Mali has been plagued by an Islamist insurgency which started in the north of the country in 2012 and later spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

French troops were deployed to the Saharan state in 2013 to help stunt the growth of the jihadists.

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Israel urged to provide COVID vaccines to Palestinians



Human Rights Watch on Sunday called on the Israeli authorities to provide coronavirus vaccines to the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Anadolu Agency reported.

In a statement, the New York-based rights group said Israel has ignored the plight of Palestinians living under its military rule.

“While Israel has already vaccinated more than 20 percent of its citizens, including Jewish settlers in the West Bank, it has not committed to vaccinating Palestinians living in the same occupied territory under its military rule,” the HRW said.

On Jan. 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the acceleration of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign to ensure that it is completed by the end of March.

The rights organization called on Tel Aviv to fulfill its obligations “under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure medical supplies” which it said are “heightened after more than 50 years of occupation with no end in sight.”

READ: Pfizer delays January vaccine delivery to Bahrain

“These responsibilities, alongside its obligations under international human rights law, include providing vaccines in a nondiscriminatory manner to Palestinians living under its control, using as a benchmark what it provides for its own citizens.”

“The fact that Israeli citizens, including settlers in the West Bank, are receiving vaccines at one of the most rapid rates in the world indicates that Israel has the ability to provide the vaccines to at least some Palestinians in the occupied territory, but has chosen to leave them unprotected,” HRW said.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the number of coronavirus cases has exceeded 170,000, including 1861 deaths, since March.

On Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced that his government has taken “all financial and administrative measures in order to obtain the first batch” of the vaccine, without giving further details on the date of its arrival.

READ: Lebanon inks final deal for 2.1m doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

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