On Dec. 10, 1948, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a groundbreaking document: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 48 countries which supported it from the beginning pledged to honor and protect the rights inherent to all human beings, whatever their nationality, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or socio-economic background. The signatories were also aware that abuses of human rights spill beyond national borders and endanger peace, security and stability. Among those 48 states was Lebanon. Lebanon and the other signatories of the declaration wisely recognized that human rights are not an abstract concept. To the contrary: History has shown that states and societies are strong and resilient only when human rights are respected, when the debate is free and open, and when participation is active and welcomed. The European Union is founded on this experience. This experience is driving our ambition to promote and protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
In a time where human rights are violated on a daily basis, where conflicts around us increase, and where inequalities rise, the active work for human rights is more important than ever before. That is why human rights are an essential element in all our policies in the European Union, but also in our cooperation with countries around the world.
In Lebanon, several positive and encouraging developments in the field of human rights have taken place over the past two years, including the adoption of the law establishing a National Human Rights Institute, a National Preventive Mechanism to investigate the use of torture and ill-treatment, and more recently the long-awaited anti-torture law. In a time of security risks and when the protection of human rights is backtracking in many places in the region, the adoption of these laws is an important accomplishment and shows that Lebanon recognizes the essential fact that torture and other human rights’ abuses do not make a country more stable.
The implementation of these laws will be the next important step. In this work, the full operationalization of the National Human Rights Institute and the National Preventive Mechanism will be vital. Activating them is an opportunity for Lebanon to stand out as a champion for human rights and democracy in the region. We hope that the Lebanese government will very soon finalize the establishment of these institutions. As soon as this happens, the European Union stands ready to provide additional support, technical assistance and expertise.
This would complement the work we already do together on promoting human rights. One ongoing project is to support the Lebanese government in establishing a National Coordination Mechanism. This will ensure high quality and timely reporting to and interaction with the human rights mechanisms. A first workshop between the responsible human rights focal points in all ministries is taking place Monday under the patronage of Minister of State for Human Rights Ayman Choucair, who is strongly committed to this process. Together, the National Coordination Mechanism, the National Human Rights Institute and the National Preventive Mechanism have the potential not only to improve the realization of human rights but also overall sustainable development for Lebanon.
Another example of a successful cooperation between the European Union and Lebanon is the establishment of a Forensic and Psychological Examination Unit at the Tripoli Palace of Justice, the first unit of its type. Also, the EU funded a project in Qibbeh Prison in Tripoli to improve detention conditions and access to basic services by refurbishing part of this prison’s facilities and establishing a Medical and a Rehabilitation Center.
We are now looking forward to the implementation of new projects planned in close cooperation with the Lebanese government. One key objective for us is to support the establishment of a child-friendly justice system in which detention of children will only be used as a last resort. Acknowledging that the fight against terrorism is a matter of high concern for the Lebanese authorities, the EU will also support Lebanon in the integration of a human rights-based approach across the criminal justice system, including for terrorism-related crimes.
Almost seventy years on, the world is far from the full respect of the commitments enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights, and we recognize that we all must do more in this respect.
The European Union will continue to protect and promote the universality of human rights whenever they are violated or questioned, inside or outside our borders, and we remain committed to support Lebanon, both the government and the Lebanese citizens, in this joint work.
Ambassador Christina Lassen is the head of the delegation of the European Union to Lebanon.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 09, 2017, on page 2.