SAT 4 - 4 - 2020
Feb 12, 2019
The Daily Star
Lebanese Rights group complains to U.N. over LGBT crackdown
Abby Sewell| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch filed a complaint Monday with United Nations human rights officials over General Security’s disruption of events related to LGBT issues in Lebanon.
The watchdog also made public a written response from General Security head Abbas Ibrahim to questions about his agency’s crackdown on a conference organized last year by a local NGO focused on gender and sexuality issues, in which he argued that it violated “moral standards” and also accused the organizers of deceiving authorities about the true nature of the conference.
The complaint was addressed to the U.N. special rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and on human rights defenders, and to the U.N. independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It argued that “disruptions of peaceful human rights activities violate the rights to freedom of assembly and association, expression and nondiscrimination,” and urged the officials to “engage with the government of Lebanon to encourage it to ensure that groups can organize around [sexual orientation and gender identity] rights without official interference and intimidation.”
The complaint went on to say that “Lebanon is one of the few remaining destinations in the region that has provided a safe space for networking between rights activists, and we are regrettably watching this space shrink.”
The complaint also urged the U.N. officials to put pressure on Lebanese authorities to lift entry bans that have been placed on some attendees of a conference last year, if the bans were related to their participation in the event.
General Security officers attempted to shut down the annual NEDWA (networking, exchange, developments, wellness and achievement) conference organized by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality last September and took passport information on all the participants from the hotel registry.
Subsequently, according to AFE’s executive director, at least three of the participants from outside Lebanon were denied re-entry to the country without being given a reason. In response to an inquiry from The Daily Star, a General Security representative previously declined to confirm or deny the existence of the bans or whether they were related to the conference.
HRW officials said Ibrahim had declined a request to meet with them and discuss the issue.
The complaint also noted that in May 2018, General Security had detained activist Hadi Damien and pressured him to cancel some events associated with Beirut Pride, and that in August 2017, the agency ordered a hotel to cancel a human rights workshop organized by the AFE.
General Security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint.
However, in Ibrahim’s written response to questions sent by HRW about his agency’s handling of the NEDWA conference, he argued that the article of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights related to freedom of assembly “is clear in its requirement for the meeting to be consistent with the moral standards of the particular society. As the topic of the conference remains controversial in Lebanese culture, it was necessary to take measures to avoid an escalation of the situation under these circumstances, namely by suspending the conference activities.”
Ibrahim also claimed that conference organizers had been deceptive on applications for entry visas for the foreign participants in the conference, saying they had “organized a conference for the gay community in Lebanon, and to this end, obtained entry visas for Arab and foreign conference attendees in a deceptive manner, claiming in letters submitted to the General Security that the subject was ‘the best methods of protection and health care.’”
He noted the presence of representatives from the gay dating app Grindr at the conference and said gay marriage was among the topics of discussion.
Georges Azzi, executive director of AFE, disputed the characterization, saying the conference was not about gay marriage and did not deal exclusively with LGBT issues, nor were all the participants from the LGBT community.
“NEDWA is a conference that addresses all issues related to bodily rights,” he said. “We strongly believe that we cannot address sexual health without speaking about rights. NEDWA was addressing health and rights from different perspectives, hence we did not lie.”
As to the question of morality, Azzi said, “We work to improve human rights for everybody. There is nothing immoral about human rights. What really goes against ‘moral standards’ are those who want to impose by force their lifestyle on others.”
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