Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity over coronavirus lockdown: Human Rights Watch

Nearly empty shelves are seen at a supermarket during a countrywide lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Zalka, Lebanon, April 7, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 April 2020

Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity over coronavirus lockdown: Human Rights Watch

  • Before the pandemic erupted, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades
  • Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus have made matters worse with “millions of Lebanon’s residents... at risk of going hungry,” HRW said

BEIRUT: Millions in Lebanon risk food insecurity due to a coronavirus lockdown unless the government provides urgent assistance, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday.
Lebanon in mid-March ordered residents to stay at home and all non-essential businesses to close to halt the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 575 people and killed 19 nationwide.
Before the pandemic erupted, Lebanon was struggling with its worst economic crisis in decades, with 45 percent of the population facing poverty according to official estimates.
Lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus have made matters worse with “millions of Lebanon’s residents... at risk of going hungry,” HRW said in a statement.
Lebanon is home to 4.5 million people, and also hosts around 1.5 million Syrians who have fled the nine-year war next door, most of whom rely on aid to survive.
“The lockdown... has compounded the poverty and economic hardship rampant in Lebanon before the virus arrived,” said HRW senior researcher Lena Simet.
“Many people who had an income have lost it, and if the government does not step in, more than half the population may not be able to afford food and basic necessities.”
The economic crisis since last year had already caused many people to lose their jobs or take salary cuts, and stay-at-home measures to counter the virus have now prevented even more from earning a wage.
Media has carried reports of a taxi driver who set his car on fire after security forces fined him for breaking the lockdown rules.
And an unemployed Lebanese construction worker unable to afford rent offered to sell his kidney, in an image widely shared online.
HRW Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub said many families are struggling due to a lack of savings.
The government has said it will pay out 400,000 Lebanese pounds (less than $150 at the market rate) to the most vulnerable.
HRW said the government should also consider suspending rent and mortgage payments throughout the lockdown.
Majzoub said Syrian refugees were also affected.
“Many of them were seasonal workers — they worked in agriculture, they worked in the service industry — and they’re not able to do that anymore,” she said.
But their ability to cope will depend largely on international aid, as before the pandemic.
The World Bank last week said it had re-allocated $40 million from its support to Lebanon’s health sector to fight the virus, including for tests and ventilators.
And it has also been discussing “assistance to help mitigate the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the poor through emergency social safety nets,” World Bank spokeswoman Zeina El-Khalil told AFP in March.
On Monday, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun urged the international community to provide financial assistance to back economic reforms.


Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.