The following is a written statement submitted to the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It has been prepared by Research Officer Jonny D’Rozario. We welcome your feedback or comment.
A proposal for comprehensive reform in the Lebanese Republic
The Next Century Foundation (NCF) is increasingly concerned about the current situation in the Lebanese Republic. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2539, adopted on the 28th August 2020 expresses solidarity with Lebanon and its people in the aftermath of the explosions which struck Beirut on the 4th August 2020.
UNSCR 2539 calls for “the swift formation of a new Government that can respond to the needs and aspirations of the Lebanese population,” arguing that to match the needs and aspirations of the Lebanese population a new system of governance is needed. Against the backdrop of protests that have been ongoing since October 2019 it is important to address protestors concerns. In this regard, the Next Century Foundation further echoes the sentiments of Resolution 2539 on the need to implement “reforms absolutely necessary to overcome and recover from the current and unprecedented acute social and economic crisis”.
The NCF recognises Recommendation 152 in the Recommendations of the 2015 Periodic Review of the Lebanese Republic regarding the need to fight against corruption and promote transparency. Addressing this pervasive corruption in governance and society is essential.
Political System Reforms
The Next Century Foundation views reforms to the political system as being absolutely necessary to achieve a system of governance that matches the aspirations of the Lebanese population. The Next Century Foundation stresses the need to immediately implement a bicameral system of governance as is outlined in the Taif Agreement of 1989. The Taif Agreement calls for a bicameral system of governance in which the Upper House is elected on what will de facto be a confessional basis (i.e. using current constituency boundaries with the electorate voting by ancestral means as it is in current law) and the Lower House is elected on a national non-confessional basis. Such a political system matches the needs and aspirations of the Lebanese population.
The NCF recommends that the powers of the Upper House be “confined to crucial issues” as is outlined in the Taif Agreement. The NCF suggests that the lower house maintain total control over domestic and foreign affairs, with the Upper House powers being confined to issues such as:
(1) Acting as a final court of appeal in the judicial system if and only if the independent judiciary decides to refer a case to the Upper House.
(2) Exercising a power to delay controversial legislation for a limited period of two years.
(3) Acting as a second channel to initiate legislation for approval in the Lower House.
(4) Endorsing the appointment of ambassadors.
(5) Having the casting vote on legislation for constitutional amendment or electoral law amendment if a mere majority is reached in the Lower House on issues that would otherwise require a two thirds majority.
The NCF applauds the progress towards safeguarding democracy outlined in Article 47 of the National Report submitted in accordance with paragraph 15 (a) of the annex to the Human Rights Council resolution 5/1 for the Lebanese Republic (A/HRC/WG.6/37/LBN/1), that the 2018 parliamentary elections used a system of proportional representation in the Lebanese Republic. The NCF encourages further progress on Recommendation 159 in the Recommendations of the 2015 Periodic Review of the Lebanese Republic regarding safeguarding Democracy in Lebanon by implementing a new electoral law that uses a single national constituency to elect the Lower House through a system of proportional representation on a national basis.
The NCF recommends that the Upper House initially retains 128 seats using the same confessional breakdown that currently exists in the Chamber of Deputies. Twenty years after the first election, the number of seats in the Upper House could be halved to 64 and the confessional breakdown reassessed by national census. Each confession could be proportionately represented as best possible in the Upper House depending on the census outcome, but each of the 19 confessions recognised in the constitution of the Lebanese Republic should be represented in the Upper House to avoid marginalising minorities.
Remuneration for those that serve in the Upper House should be nominal and cover basic expenses on a per diem basis for attendance. The motivation to serve in positions in the Upper House should not be financial gain. The NCF further recommends the removal of the requirement for the executive positions of governance to be held by specific confessional groups. We understand why this was put in place in the aftermath of civil war, but this practice no longer serves Lebanon’s needs.
Electoral Law Reform
The NCF also recommends changes to the current electoral law, Law no. 44, to develop an electoral system which matches the ambitions of the Lebanese people. Article 9 of Law no. 44 established the Supervisory Commission for Elections to monitor candidate financing, but further progress is urgent. The NCF strongly recommends the passing of stricter laws providing greater clarity and transparency on how political parties are financed to further progress in the promotion of transparency outlined in Recommendation 152 in the Recommendations of the 2015 Periodic Review of the Lebanese Republic. The NCF argues that lowering the voting age to 18 and using a consistent electoral process for each election are critical reforms needed to overcome the crisis recognised in Resolution 2539.
The NCF shares the concern adopted by the Human Rights Committee at its 122nd session about the political pressure exerted on the judiciary. The NCF applauds the recommendation made by the Human Rights Committee in its Concluding Observations on the Third Periodic Report of Lebanon that “the Lebanese Republic ensure that the procedures for the selection, appointment, promotion and removal of judges were in compliance with the principles of independence and impartiality.”
The NCF expresses strong concern that this recommendation has not been heeded and the judiciary remains tied to political interests. This goes against the current constitution of the Lebanese Republic that explicitly divides the power of the state into independent legislative, executive and judicial branches. Reforms to separate the judicial branch and ensure its independence are needed to assist the Lebanese Republic in emerging from the current crisis.
The NCF urgently calls for the enforcement of the existing constitutional remit to separate the powers of the judicial, executive and legislative branches, supporting the statement adopted by the Human Rights Committee at its 122nd session that the state needs to strengthen its efforts to guarantee the judiciary can carry out its functions without any form of political interference.
Judges need to be selected, appointed, promoted and removed internally by other judges to ensure these processes are in compliance with the principles of independence and impartiality as recommended by the Human Rights Committee at its 122nd session.
A draft law on the independence and transparency of the judiciary registered at the Parliament Registry on 06/09/2018 needs to be implemented immediately as this law aims to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and accountability within the judiciary, in line with the Human Rights Council recommendations.
The independence of the judiciary from the financial system needs to be enforced alongside its political independence. Confession based judge allocations and accountabilities to law need to be removed and replaced with national non-sectarian standards to assist in moving towards a non-confessional administration.
The NCF joins with UN Security Council Resolution 2539 in stressing the “urgent need for the Lebanese authorities to respond to the aspirations of the Lebanese people by implementing meaningful economic reforms”. Meaningful economic reforms must endeavour to implement actions of reducing confessionalism and promoting transparency.
The NCF argues the Bank of Lebanon Special Commission needs to be appointed on a nonconfessional basis. This entity deals with anti-corruption laws and its independence from sectarian and political power needs to be ensured to fight corruption and promote transparency as outlined in Recommendation 152 in the Recommendations of the 2015 Periodic Review of the Lebanese Republic.
To further forward this recommendation the NCF proposes the introduction of a law stipulating that “conducting a forensic audit on the Central Bank of Lebanon does not violate the 1956 Banking Secrecy Law” that is currently preventing forensic audits. Adopting this measure is essential in promoting transparency and fighting corruption in the financial sector.
Public Sector Reforms
The concern adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in its 59th session about the lack of transparency and clientelism in public affairs in Lebanon is shared by the NCF. The NCF recognises the current constitutional requirement for the top jobs in the civil service to be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims. The confessional requirement for these roles is by no means ideal and in the longer term consideration should be given to having this replaced with a system of meritocracy.
However in the short term achieving a system of meritocracy in the public sector can and should be aided by limiting current ministerial power to reshuffle the civil servants in their department. These reforms are essential to meet the desires and aspirations of the Lebanese people.