1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: In 2020, the human rights and democracy situation in Lebanon regressed also against the background of the devastating explosion at the Port of Beirut on 4 August 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic which exacerbated the country’s pre-existing political and socio-economic crises. Since August 2020, Lebanon is led by a caretaker government, while negotiations to form a new government headed by Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri continued. The compounded crises have negatively affected the realisation of economic and social rights of large segments of the population, especially groups in vulnerable situations. Challenges to the respect of human rights and rule of law remain, including military courts’ jurisdiction over civilians and lack of progress in the budgetary operationalisation of the National Human Rights Commission and the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture (NPM). Further reform of the electoral framework is also essential. No public findings have been published in relation to the investigation into the explosion at Beirut port, raising concerns related to justice and accountability. The space for free speech, media and civil society has shrunk further during 2020. Positive developments were recorded, such as the adoption of the National AntiCorruption Strategy and the Law on Financial Disclosure and Illicit Enrichment. Steps were also taken to advance policy frameworks on gender-based violence and child protection. However, discriminatory laws on custody, marriage and divorce faced by women remain in place. In 2020, Lebanon adopted a new Standard Unified Contract for the migrant workers, which remains blocked by the Lebanese State Council on procedural grounds.
2. EU action - key focus areas: The EU continuously advocated for human rights in the political and policy dialogue with the Lebanese government, also by carrying out numerous activities and public outreach events, including digital ones. The EU delegation also continued to organise regular EU Human Rights Focal Points' meetings to exchange on developments and coordinate efforts strategically with EU Member States. Key EU focus areas in 2020 included
i) Freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of assembly: The EU raised concerns about the situation of freedom of speech, both through political dialogue and through various public outreach events, speeches and social media activity. Virtual events and a TV ceremony were held for the annual ‘Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press’, co-organised by the EU Delegation in Beirut, to demonstrate support for press freedom in Lebanon and in the region.
ii) Rule of law and torture prevention: An EU-funded project allowed the creation of a code of conduct for the NPM and the revision of relevant by-laws, while providing Lebanese authorities with specialised trainings on investigative interviewing and tools. The EU delegation disseminated an awareness raising video on prevention of spread of COVID-19 in places of detention and an EU project established medical isolation rooms at Tripoli prison and provided other prisons with water tanks and personal protective equipment.
iii) Death penalty: The EU continued to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty. For the first time, Lebanon changed its vote, in line with the EU, to support a draft resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the UN General Assembly Third Committee in November 2020.
iv) Women’s rights and gender equality: EU projects focused on combating poverty among Lebanese women by empowering them economically, ensuring gender equality in decisionmaking processes, and capacity-building programmes to promote gender equality at local and national levels. The EU also adapted projects to address women’s needs in the face of COVID19 and the Beirut Port blast. The EU ran digital campaigns on women’s rights, gender-based violence, and organised roundtables involving authorities on mainstreaming gender in national policies and addressing discriminatory legislation.
v) Rights of the child: Throughout 2020, the EU supported actions on education, including formal educational solutions provided by the Ministry of Education as well as non-formal education for Syrian refugees and Lebanese children in vulnerable situations. The EU also assisted in the delivery of children protection services during the pandemic adapting them to online modalities, as needs of mental health and psychosocial support services increased considerably. Through the EU Regional Trust Fund in Response to the Syrian crisis (EUTF) and UNRWA, assistance was provided to remote learning and distant psychosocial support to Palestinian refugee students.
vi) Rights of refugees and migrants - The EU advocated for returns of Syrian refugees to be voluntary, safe and dignified. The EU continued its support to refugees displaced by the Syrian crisis and host communities, notably through the EUTF, providing assistance in areas such as education, healthcare, economic development, water and sanitation, and social protection. All projects were adapted to the compounded crises Lebanon faced in 2020. The EU continued to provide access to health and education for Palestinian refugees, including through UNRWA. The EU also stepped up policy dialogue and public communications on the rights of migrant workers, including on ending the kafala sponsorship system and on supporting the adoption of the Standard Unified Contract. An EU project continued providing domestic migrant workers with shelter, legal, and protection support.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: Following the Beirut port explosion, European Council President Michel visited Lebanon on 8 August 2020 and participated with Commissioner Lenarčič on the following day in the International Conference on Assistance and Support to Beirut and the Lebanese People. On 12 September, Commissioner Lenarčič accompanied the third flight to Lebanon under the EU’s Humanitarian Air Bridge. President Michel and HR/VP Borrell also took part in the International Conference of 2 December in support of the Lebanese people. Council conclusions of 7 December called on the Lebanese authorities to deliver urgently on key reforms, including guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary, ensure the respect for human rights and the rule of law, and fight corruption. The conclusions also urged the Lebanese authorities to deliver on their commitment to an impartial, credible, transparent and independent investigation into the Beirut port explosion. In 2020, the EU also continued providing support, including funding, to the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The EU engaged regularly with CSOs to increase their participation in policy dialogue and policymaking processes, as set out in the EU Country Roadmap for Engagement with Civil Society. This included several rounds of consultations with CSOs and NGOs in preparation of the fourth Brussels Conference ‘Supporting the future of Syria and the region’. Moreover, civil society will have a key role in the implementation and oversight of the Reform, Recovery and Reconstruction Framework, a people-centred response plan, jointly developed by the EU, World Bank and UN, which addresses the urgent needs of the population after the explosion in Beirut port.
4. EU financial engagement: In 2020, the EU continued to embed a human rights-based approach in programming and cooperation efforts. 19 projects related to human rights financed under EU instruments (EIDHR, ENI) and worth around EUR 27 million were implemented by CSOs and UN agencies. This project portfolio focused on addressing pressing human rights and democracy issues related to the rights of the child and the rights of persons in detention, equal access to justice, the right to vote, freedom of expression, women's and youth's rights and empowerment as well as inter-cultural/religious dialogue and rights of LGBTI persons. Support to migrant workers amounted to EUR 1 million under EIDHR. In addition, through the EUTF, several actions were adopted in 2020 to respond to the needs of refugees and host communities in Lebanon. This support included the allocation of EUR 90 million in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Following the explosion at the Port of Beirut, the EU mobilised around EUR 170 million to address immediate and humanitarian needs and support a people-centred recovery. This included EUR 64.5 million new funding channelled through the EUTF to support the most vulnerable Lebanese and refugee communities affected by the explosion.
5. Multilateral context: In 2020, preparations were carried out ahead of Lebanon’s review at the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council in January 2021. In its statement under item 2 at the UN Human Rights Council in September, the EU called for an independent and credible investigation into the Beirut port explosion.