On the occasion of Human Rights Day on 10 December, the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon and the Faculty of Law at the Lebanese University in Zahle organised a debate on the topic of "The role of civil society organisations in ensuring good governance and in promoting human rights in Lebanon". The debate gave students an opportunity to discuss the role that the Lebanese civil society plays in promoting freedom of expression and in ensuring that citizens can fully exercise their right to choose their representatives. It also touched upon the role of youth in the democratic process.
The debate was opened by Dr Akram Yaghi, Director of the Lebanese University, Zahle Branch, Ambassador Christina Lassen, Head of the Delegation of the European Union, and Ambassador of Germany Martin Huth. The panellists were, Ambassador Lassen, Ambassador Huth, Mr. Asaad Zoghaib, Head of the Municipality of Zahle, Mr. George Ghali from ALEF (Association Libanaise pour l'Education et la Formation) representing the Lebanese civil society, and Dr Toni Atallah, Dean of the Doctoral School of Law, Political, Administrative and Economic Sciences at the Lebanese University. The debate was moderated by Dr Azza Sleiman, Professor of Law at the Lebanese University.
In her opening remarks, Ambassador Lassen congratulated Lebanon for all the work it has devoted to human rights. She said: "We would like to encourage Lebanon to take further steps in improving respect for human rights. Abolition of Article 522 of the Penal Code, which exempts the perpetrator of rape from punishment in case he marries the victim, will definitely be a step forward. We welcome the decision of the Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee that agreed to abolish the article. We hope that Parliament will soon ratify this important decision. Lebanon has made a noticeable progress and should not take any steps back." Ambassador Lassen also reminded that "protecting human rights is not only a responsibility of governments. It is also about us: individuals and society not reacting, looking the other way when we witness human rights violations. This is why the EU joins the UN in calling upon people to stand for someone's right. Each of us has a responsibility to stand up for human rights. We can draw inspiration from human rights defenders and civil society organisations protecting those whose voice is not heard'.
Human rights are key founding values of the European Union and the guiding principles in the relations with all partner countries across the world, including in Lebanon. For this reason, the EU supports Lebanese state institutions to develop and implement human rights policies and reforms. The EU has also been supporting civil society organisations in advocating for the respect of human rights in Lebanon.