Dear Minister Ayman Choucair (TBC),
Dear General Mounir Cheeban,
Dear Suzanne Jabbour, and all Restart colleagues,
Representatives of security institutions,
Representatives of civil society,
Allow me to start by thanking our partner RESTART Center for the extraordinary work that they are doing in Kobbe prison. We have managed to establish an excellent collaboration, and I am well aware of the remarkable professionalism and dedication of all RESTART's staff. A big thanks to all the Restart family and best wishes to continue on the same successful path.
I would also like to thank the Lebanese authorities, in particular the Ministry of Interior, including the ISF, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Human Rights (tbc) for their presence today and most importantly for the support that they provide to the work of civil society organisations. This support is essential and we hope that it will be increased even further in the coming months and years.
Undertaking meaningful and comprehensive reforms is always a challenge, not only in Lebanon. Reforming a penitentiary system to align it with international standards, norms and best practices is an ambitious objective. It requires a collective effort, cooperation and coordination between several stakeholders.
The presence of representatives from key stakeholders today attests the firm commitment of the Lebanese authorities to reform the penitentiary system and protect the rights of prisoners.
We are fully aware that the needs and challenges in Lebanon are huge. This is why we commend the efforts of the authorities and civil society to address them despite the limited means they have at their disposal.
The management of prison space and facilities has become much more difficult due to the increasing number of prisoners in the last years, which is creating prison overcrowding. This poses numerous challenges, including in terms of admission, classification and allocation of cells, which in turn undermines the security, safety and human custody of the prisoners. But overcrowding also deteriorates the working conditions of the ISF's prison staff and the civil society organisations that are delivering services and assistance.
The lack of a specialised prison police and a national policy on rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners are amongst the challenges that require our close attention. It is widely believed that apart from upgrading prisons' infrastructure and reducing overcrowding levels there is a need to enhance and improve the current offer of educational, vocational training and income-generating activities for effective rehabilitation of inmates.
Reintegration measures should also include preparation to after prison-release, the improvement of relations with families, and a follow-up after release. In our view, expanding this offer remains critical as a means to improving chances for reintegration and also to prevent violent extremism.
Against this backdrop, we are pleased by the steps taken by Lebanon to better protect the human rights of detainees and prisoners. The adoption of the law establishing the National Human Rights Institution and the National Prevention Mechanism is an important step into the right direction. We now hope that the government will ensure that these two mechanisms will be operational very soon. The EU is already exploring ways of supporting these mechanisms through an ongoing project with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and future projects.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The benefits of this project go far beyond infrastructural improvements. At the request of the government we had included a component to refurbish a part of this prison's facilities, including the construction of a bridge between the two blocks and the establishment of a Medical and Rehabilitation Center. We trust that the facilities will serve to make a better use of the space available and that in-house service delivery to prisoners will be carried out in better conditions. Funds were also used to equip the medical centres inside the prison with necessary equipment to conduct medical tests.
Why do improved detention conditions mean so much to the EU? First and foremost, because we believe that it is a basic human right to live in decent conditions that are not undermining human dignity.
Secondly, because we believe that rehabilitation of prisoners is a natural step following the sentence: it is our responsibility to make sure that inmates are given a second chance once they are behind bars.
Last but not least, working with prisoners is important in fighting radicalisation and in preserving security. People that experience humiliation and see no perspectives for their future are more vulnerable to extremist ideologies.
We have to remember thought that these infrastructural works and trainings for the personnel are important, but will not be enough if not accompanied by effective legal reforms.
Recommendations published by the Committee against Torture give an opportunity to take a stock of remaining challenges and to prioritise actions that can be undertaken to improve to detention conditions.
The EU stands ready to support Lebanon in following up on these recommendations.
Thank you for your attention.