Letter to 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council Addressing the Labor Crackdown in Lebanon

Letter to 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council Addressing the Labor Crackdown in Lebanon

During the 42nd regular session of the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), the undersigned civil society organisations, have urged  the Council to take action to address serious human rights violations and abuses that have been and continue to be committed in Lebanon against Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

As detailed below, the Council should formulate a holistic response to the situation in the country.

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Letter to 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

26, September 2019

The undersigned signatories would like to address the shrinking civil society space in Lebanon. The signatories consider that the issues presented in this document raise important human rights concerns in relation to Lebanon’s obligations under international human rights law in general, and under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Charter of the United Nations, & International Covenant on Civil and Political rights in particular.

The context in Lebanon is rapidly deteriorating, State-sponsored attacks against independent media, refugees and activists have progressed, creating an atmosphere of intolerance in which the government and individuals can erode basic human rights. In the last months, hate speech and nationalist discourses have been used[1] against Palestinian and Syrian refugees and sent the signal of a new erosion of the rights of all independent social movements in Lebanon. For example, in recent years, there have been alarming developments in the use of various ambiguous laws, with scores of people arrested, interrogated, detained, and prosecuted for peaceful speech, particularly social media posts. SKeyes recorded more than 90 prosecutions against journalists, artists, and activists since October 2016, with 62 in 2018 alone.

Recent changes in a variety of labor, immigration, and law enforcement policies must be understood in the context of this increasing pressure on Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian civil society within Lebanon. These policies might appear unrelated, and may be officially explained as mere enforcement of existing law. However, taken together they represent a serious and intentional threat to civic space in violation of Lebanon’s international commitments. These policies include an illegal escalation of border enforcement that has led to thousands of deportations, and a campaign by the Ministry of Labor  to crack down on “illegal foreign labor” which has targeted Syrian and Palestinian workers including civic leaders.

The labor policy explicitly focused on Syrian refugees working in Lebanon, but it has been applied to Palestinian and Syrian refugees alike. On Monday 15th of July, Ministry of Labor inspectors closed down several stores, companies & businesses owned by Palestinian refugees in Saida, Chekka & other parts of the country. Several Palestinian workers have also reported that their job was terminated due to the inspection done by the Ministry of Labor. The decision to rapidly escalate enforcement without providing reasonable means for refugees and migrants to regularize their status has driven many individuals into hiding– silencing potential critics and restricting the activities of human rights defenders.

This crackdown has been used to directly target Syrian and Palestinian activists in Lebanon. The calls for enhanced enforcement of labor policies have inspired vigilante action by private citizens as well.

Palestinian WHRDs and HRDs already face many restrictions, in addition to the labor limits mentioned above. Palestinians WHRDs & HRDs are banned from peaceful assembly even though peaceful assembly is an essential prerequisite to effective human rights work. It is protected under numerous international and regional instruments[2] which require states to respect, protect and fulfil the right without discrimination. They also cannot form formal or informal groups, associations and organizations which is a critical element of the work of HRDs. This right is also protected under numerous international and regional instruments which require states to enable the effective functioning of associations and to refrain from imposing conditions on registration that might operate as undue restrictions. The work done by Palestinian WHRDs and HRDs must not be hindered due to arbitrary measures that puts them at more risk.

We therefore ask you to:

  • Condemn in a public statement the new measures against Palestinian and Syrian refugees which restrict civic space, threaten human rights activists, and violate Lebanon’s commitments under international law.
  • Urge the government of Lebanon to refrain from statements, including online, promoting intolerance and from inciting discrimination and abuse against marginalized and stigmatized groups
  • Urge the government of Lebanon to allow the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and the Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to visit the country
  • Urge the government of Lebanon, including the HDC and GDGS, to revoke the May 2019 policies mandating deportations of refugees without due process, to adopt judicial screening processes in line with the international principle of non-refoulement, and to refrain from conducting deportations in the absence of judicial orders.
  • Urge the Ministry of Labor to revoke the labor policy announced on 10th of June which imposes untenable burdens on Syrian and Palestinian refugees, endangers WHRD and HRDs, and restricts refugees’ access to their human rights guaranteed in international law.
  • Urge Lebanon to adopt the demands carried out by civil society groups in Lebanon which request the Government to legally categorize Palestinian refugees, grant economic and civil rights to the Palestinian populations and ownership rights.
  • Remind the Lebanese government that the work done by Palestinian and Syrian HRDs and WHRDs must not be stopped, as it is vital for the Palestinian and Syrian community in Lebanon. Lebanon is obliged to take measures to establish and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which HRDs and WHRDs can function.


  1. Anti-Racism Movement
  2. Female
  3. RDFL
  4. CRTDA
  5. Association Najdeh
  6. Kvinna till Kvinna
  7. Norwegian People’s Aid
  8. Regional Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders in MENA
  9. Knowledge Workshop
  10. Christian Aid

[2] 58 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 20(1)); The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 21); The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Art. 5 (d) (ix)); The Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 15); The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Art. 11); The Arab Charter on Human Rights (Art. 28); The HRDs Declaration (Art. 5 and 12)