European Union External Action

Voice of the voiceless: improving access to justice in Lebanon

25/11/2020 - 17:29
News stories

In a context of a multi-faceted crisis, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the social, economic and financial crisis, as well as the Beirut blast, gender inequalities and gender-based violence (GBV) continue to be exacerbated. In Lebanon, the European Union continues working towards the promotion of gender equality. In the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence we are reminded that improving access to justice is essential for a society where everyone’s rights are upheld equally.

The explosion has had a devastating impact on Beirut, placing an additional burden on Lebanese men and women, increasing all forms of inequalities, including gender inequalities.

 

The Internal Security Forces (ISF) have reported a marked increase of 51% in the number of incoming calls to the hotline 1745 related to domestic violence from 1 February 2020 to 1 October 2020, since the beginning of the outbreak of the Covid-19- pandemic.[1] At the same time, according to a rapid assessment made by Care Lebanon,[2] the GBV response and prevention services have been suspended or slowed down, while access to legal protection for survivors has been delayed due to the courts closure.

 

While GBV is increasing, there are persistent voices to continue creating awareness against it. We have gathered some direct testimonies of lawyers who day in and day out are on the frontline are providing support to people in need, and are engaged in activities within the EU for Women Empowerment (EU4WE) project, funded by the European Union and implemented by Expertise France.

 

Acknowledging its presence is a first step to eliminating it, says a female lawyer in Beirut about gender-based violence. On the other side of the country, a lawyer in Tripoli echoes the same conviction, Gender-based violence is one of the most common forms of injustice in our societies and it's our duty as carriers of a message, to fight injustice anywhere, as it's a threat to justice everywhere.

 

The European Union is building the capacity of legal professionals to address gender-based violence and helping them to better defend women who are survivors of violence.  It also supports research and analysis to identify practical solutions to improve access to justice in Lebanon. By looking at religious court and civil law cases, an ongoing legal study supported by the European Union is unearthing the challenges survivors of violence experience in the different religious denominations. The study will pinpoint not only common challenges, but also specific ones, and most importantly identify practical solutions to improve access to justice says Att. Joelle Choueifati, lawyer and gender expert, leading the legal study.

 

To this end, the project has worked with four teams of lawyers based in Tripoli and Beirut, women and men, specialized in Lebanese Personal Status Laws and practicing before Lebanese courts, to analyze over 50 cases of gender-based violence before religious and civil courts.

 

Being part of this study helped me to raise the voices of women victims of violence through highlighting not only the gaps in the laws and its implementation, but also the violations committed against women through the patriarchal behaviors at all levels, tells us a lawyer in Beirut.

 

Highly motivated to participate in this study and to work together overcoming any geographic barrier, the lawyers have evolved in a very motivated community as is echoed by a lawyer in Tripoli who partakes in the project: Cooperating with a team of some of the best experts in the country is a privilege when it's dedicated to advocate for justice and equality. As justice is an ideal, while the law is merely a tool that needs to serve the best interest of people everywhere. The significance of that feeling, to be hopefully able to make a positive impact on someone's life, due to a better legal approach, designed to protect the survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

 

The lawyers share a common hope for the future of their own country.

 

I hope for an improved legal/social system with contextualized interventions, that offers a better understanding of the mechanisms moving our society, in a country filled with biases on so many different levels, shares one among them. Another adds to this wish her hope that in the near future we will become a civil country where women are part of decision-making, and of peace and the security process. I hope that a legal reform will occur at all levels to ensure the end of impunity of all crimes and violations committed against women and girls.

 

Following careful legal assessments by the four teams which highlighted bottlenecks, resistances and also some best practices, the comparative legal analysis itself can now start. The study will be a key cornerstone of the design and provision of legal trainings for lawyers on the basics of strategic litigation, relying on international treaties and conventions and on the legal particularities of each religious denomination existing in Lebanon. This will contribute to ensuring that women who are survivors of gender-based violence will have better access to justice. It will also lead to the establishment of a pool of specialized trained lawyers to provide enhanced legal services to victims and survivors of gender-based violence, no matter what their religion is explains Att. Joelle Choueifati.

 

Once the comparative legal analysis will be completed and using the results of the study available in the course of 2021 the project will organize a roundtable bringing together public institutions, academia, think tanks and civil society to promote an exchange of international best practices that are relevant to Lebanon and to feed key knowledge for the essential advocacy role the different entities play in the fight against gender-based violence.

 

In the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence we honour the works of the many Lebanese women and men who every day work to build a better Lebanon. In the words of an attorney from Beirut who serves on one of the four teams: It is a lifestyle of dedication to justice and respect for human rights in all ways possible. Therefore, I use my key role and career to be the voice of the voiceless and the support for the vulnerable. As a woman in the Lebanese society I face gender-based violence on a daily basis and fight all the misconceptions and the values that underestimate women’s roles.

The European Union stands for gender equality, for better inclusion of women at all levels and against all forms of discrimination and gender-based violence. In Lebanon and all over the world, the European Union provides support for its prevention and assistance for the protection of survivors through programmes such as EU for Women Empowerment (EU4WE).

 

 

Note: The names of all lawyers interviewed for this article have been omitted to protect their identity.

[1] https://executive-bulletin.com/ngo/monitoring-a-marked-increase-in-the-n...

[2] http://www.careevaluations.org/wp-content/uploads/CIL_RapidGenderAnalysi...

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