Lebanon faces judicial paralysis as judges refuse to work

Lebanon faces judicial paralysis as judges refuse to work
Justice palaces lack all work components. Judges complain of the lack of electricity, non-functioning elevators and the absence of stationery. (Reuters/File)
Short Url
Updated 23 August 2022

Lebanon faces judicial paralysis as judges refuse to work

Lebanon faces judicial paralysis as judges refuse to work
  • Talks carried out with political leaders ‘didn’t result in securing their minimum demands’

BEIRUT: Judges in Lebanon continued their protest on Tuesday after a meeting to review their issues proved inconclusive.

About 400 out of 550 judges suspended services last week after talks with political leaders failed to secure their minimum demands.

The judges include the president of the Supreme Judicial Council of Lebanon, council members, judges from the cassation and appeal courts, public prosecution offices, tribunals, and judicial departments.

Judges held a closed general assembly on Tuesday in Beirut’s Justice Palace to discuss the results of the talks.

Judges of different ranks and positions are striking, except those from the Audit Bureau and the State Shura Council.

The Supreme Judicial Council said it ensured the “good functioning, dignity, and independence of the judiciary” and was keen on securing the judges’ rights.

It said it adopted all of the judges’ demands, including the protest until solutions were implemented.

“The deteriorating judicial situation is mainly the result of not adopting the judiciary independence law,” it added.

Former general prosecutor, Judge Hatem Madi, told Arab News: “The suspension of the judges’ work means that all public prosecution offices in the country are paralyzed and all judicial reviews are suspended.

“It is not the first time the Supreme Judicial Council doesn’t remain neutral and is in the center of the protest.

“My salary is now worth $300 and I occupy a high judicial rank, let alone junior judges, whose salaries amount to less than $75. What is happening reflects the collapse of the country. It is the first time that Lebanon’s judiciary is disrupted like that.

“During the war, we used to work and our salaries were enough. Today, however, they didn’t just steal our deposits and contribute to the collapse of our salaries, but also imposed new taxes.”

According to a judicial source, judges were complaining of attempts to subject them to the “desires of the ruling class and fabricate files against them.”

The judicial source added: “Lebanese judges are qualified, but the political class is using its power to subject them to their interests. One of the main examples is what happened with the file of the Beirut port explosion and the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar just because he accused politicians of negligence.”

Judges are calling for a radical solution to their salary increase demand. The salary of a judge is now worth $221 as per the black market exchange rate. It used to be $5,000 before Lebanon's economic crisis hit three years ago.

Justice palaces now lack all work components. Judges complain about the lack of electricity and water, non-functioning elevators, and the absence of basic stationery, such as pens, paper, and ink.

A chief registrar in Beirut’s justice palace told Arab News: “We now use the front and the back of papers to cut costs. At times, this leads to a forced work halt due to the financial impossibility resulting from the lack of equipment necessary for the work of all court registries.”

Last month and for one time only, the Lebanese Central Bank paid judges’ salaries at LBP8,000 to the US dollar after a judge submitted a request to the Ministry of Justice, which referred the request to the Central Bank for approval.

This measure caused tension within the judicial authority as it was seen as bribery by the governor of the Central Bank to judges, especially as he is being prosecuted against the backdrop of financial charges.

The decision also enraged civil servants, who were allocated a cost-of-living allowance, aid, and productive compensation to appease them.

Professors at the Lebanese University are continuing with their open strike, demanding to receive the same treatment as judges.

The collapse of the Lebanese pound has affected the salaries of civil servants significantly as they lost about 95 percent of their purchasing power, which drove them to stop working and be on strike since June.

The State Shura Council complained about the circumstances that its judges were experiencing.

It warned: “The implications of these circumstances might affect the ability of judges to perform their function normally in a way that ensures the continuity of work in this vital facility.”

It talked about “infringements and fabrications targeting the council’s judges by many parties, namely some of those occupying responsible positions in the state and who are supposed to abide by the laws and regulations governing the functioning of the state institutions.”

It added: “Things have reached an intolerable point. The independence of the judiciary vis-a-vis the executive and legislative powers must be achieved now, as it symbolizes society’s democracy and the rule of law.”

It called for “rebalancing the judges’ salaries by making them fair, worthy of the judges’ status, appropriate for the significant functions asked of them, the burdens they bear, and their daily life requirements.”

The Central Administration of Statistics said the consumer price index in Lebanon for July 2022 recorded an increase of 168.45 percent compared to July 2021.

It added that consumer price inflation during the first seven months of this year reached 50 percent.


Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’
Updated 9 sec ago

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

Tunisia’s ex-speaker in court over ‘terror links’

TUNIS: The speaker of Tunisia’s dissolved parliament appeared on Monday before a judge investigating accusations his party helped Tunisian extremists travel to fight in Iraq and Syria.

Rached Ghannouchi, an arch-rival of President Kais Saied and also head of the Ennahdha party, arrived in the morning at the anti-terror court in a suburb of the capital Tunis, said one of his lawyers, Mokhtar Jemai.

At the end of the hearing, the judge is expected to decide whether or not to charge the 81-year-old.

Several other Ennahdha officials have been questioned on the “shipment of extremists” case since Saied sacked the Ennahdha-supported government and seized full executive authority in July 2021.

After Tunisia’s 2011 revolt, thousands of Tunisians joined terror groups in Libya as well as Daesh in its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Rivals of Ennahdha, which dominated Tunisian politics from 2011 until Saied’s actions, accuse the party of helping them leave.

The party has repeatedly rejected those accusations as “fabricated” and says authorities are trying to distract public attention from “economic and social concerns and the deterioration of people’s living conditions.”

Ghannouchi also appeared before a judge on November 10 as part of a case involving money-laundering and “incitement to violence.”


Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis
Updated 6 min 35 sec ago

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis

Lebanon’s courthouses suffer from judicial paralysis
  • Judges’ suspension of work has damaged public trust in system, lawyers and security official say

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s courthouses are paralysed after the country’s judges’ strike entered its fifth month. 

This prolonged inactivity has had a severe impact on the daily lives of Lebanese people, with hundreds of pending files and detainees awaiting prosecution.

More than 450 of the 560 judges in Lebanon have stopped working, with the rest continuing in military courts or for humanitarian reasons.

The strike centers around demands for salary revisions after the collapse of the Lebanese pound, as well as improvements in working conditions.

In addition to the collapse of the pound, political interference has caused significant displeasure among many in the judiciary, contributing to the desire to strike.

“People are greatly affected,” said Imad Al-Masri, a lawyer specializing in criminal proceedings. “As lawyers, we must defend people’s interests, along with our personal interests, as we are on the verge of bankruptcy and our salary is zero.”

He stated that lawyers in Lebanon are unable file complaints to release detainees, noting that preventive detention is limited to two months.

“There are humanitarian cases where people have to be released. Some (of those who) were arrested due to misdemeanors … can be released in days at the stroke of a pen. However, they have been held for months in inappropriate conditions and no one is taking action.”

Al-Masri added: “Had it not been for the security agencies that are taking action in prosecuting criminals, we would be governed by the law of the jungle.”

Another lawyer, who did not reveal his name, said: “Court hearings in a criminal court (are taking place) without a representative of the Public Prosecution office. This court is considered illegal.

“Some judges suddenly choose not to suspend their activity and decide to open files that are classified as having political coverage, such as in the bribery file of the directory of road traffic.”

The lawyer added that he tried to file an urgent complaint last week before the Cassation Public Prosecution about an attempt to kill one of his clients. However, the complaint was rejected, and when he added that the suspect might kill his client, the prosecution responded that their hands were tied.

The judges’ strike has led many citizens to lose trust in the judiciary, with some taking matters into their own hands.

A security source noted that cases of fraud and physical abuse had increased in the last months, and that offenders are no longer afraid since courthouses are not taking any action. Stories of public prosecutors not receiving people’s complaints or legal proceedings, and police stations not receiving directives to arrest suspects, meanwhile, are common.

Judges who have suspended their activities have been receiving $1,500 for three months, in addition to their salary, while continuing their strike.

However, this is covered by the Support Fund for Judges, a judicial source told Arab News, as a temporary aid while demands for a salary review continue.

The Lebanese Judges Association declared last month that “responsibility, anger and blame should be directed at the political authorities.

“The case of judges suspending their work was not given any importance, thus leaving the people and judges to suffer humiliation, as if justice is not, and never was a priority,” said the association.

Arab News learnt that the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban, had agreed to give judges their salary at the rate of 8,000 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar, subject to the approval of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

At current rates, though, judges’ monthly salaries are worth between 1.6 million pounds ($40) and 8.2 million dependent on rank and experience.

These salaries ranged between $400 and $5,000 per month before the collapse of the pound.

The increase of the public sector’s wages within the 2022 budget, meanwhile, did not include judges.

A judicial source told Arab News: “There is no electricity, no paper and no pens (at the courts). We sometimes use both sides of a sheet of paper and a phone’s flashlight to search files due to the diesel shortage and the generators’ intermittent power.

“Consequently, there is neither heating, nor cooling or maintenance, and garbage is piling up in some justice palaces.

“There are attempts to interfere politically in judicial files. How can one work in such conditions, in addition to the extremely low salaries?”


Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says
Updated 23 min 15 sec ago

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says

Palestinians stand ready to confront policies of new right-wing Israeli government, PM says
  • Key security role reportedly handed to extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir in cabinet being assembled by Benjamin Netanyahu fuels concern

RAMALLAH: Palestinians are ready to confront the policies and actions of the Israeli occupation forces with widespread displays of resistance and steadfastness, Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said on Monday.

His comments, at the start of a cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah, came amid growing Palestinian alarm over a key role promised to far-right politician Itamar Ben-Gvir in the next Israeli government. Ben-Gvir, a settler living in the West Bank who has long been a fierce opponent of Palestinian statehood, will reportedly have an expanded national security portfolio in the new administration, including responsibility for border police in the West Bank.

More generally, concerns are growing by the day among Palestinians about the likely threats posed by the extreme right-wing Israeli coalition government being formed under the leadership of Likud leader Netanyahu, which will include members of radical religious parties.

Prominent extremist leaders such as Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have openly stated the policies they intend to impose on Palestinians upon the formation of a government in which they are involved.

As a sign of the growing threat, their supporters among the settler population in the West Bank, and some Israeli army soldiers, reportedly have already begun to display more aggressive behavior toward Palestinian civilians.

Israeli sources said one of the plans of the Netanyahu government will be to legalize 60 settler outposts in the West Bank, built by Hilltop Youth extremists on large areas of confiscated Palestinian land. There are said to be plans to allocate money for the modernization and development of the outposts, and to expand the powers of the Israeli Civil Administration to approve the allocation of land for settlement expansion, according to the sources. The new Israeli government will allocate about $52 million annually for development of infrastructure for the “new small settlements” and outposts, they said.

On Monday, Shtayyeh said that the intentions of the next Israeli government had started to become clear, along with its “aggressive and colonial programs and its plans to erase the 1967 borders and to strengthen colonial outposts and turn them into new colonies, and provide them with what they need, covering it legally, materially and politically.”

He said the aggression continues despite “our realization that all settlements are illegal and illegitimate according to international law.”

Shtayyeh added that the next Israeli government will form settler militias, under the protection of the Israeli army, and had vowed to further escalate an already tense situation. However, the threats and intimidation will not frighten the Palestinians, he said.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has stated its opposition to settlement expansion in the West Bank on the grounds that it threatens the two-state solution that Washington supports.

The Palestinians fear continuing settlement expansions will destroy their dream, for which they have fought for 55 years, of a contiguous Palestinian state on the Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Khalil Al-Tafakji, director of the maps department and an expert on settlement affairs at the Arab Studies Society in Jerusalem, told Arab News that Ben-Gvir is a settler from the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron who ideologically considers the West Bank to be part of Israel. He will not accept that there is any state other than Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and does not believe in the existence of a Palestinian state.

Israeli political and religious parties on the left and right and in the center have differing opinions on many matters, Al-Tafakji said, but they all agree on the issue of settlements and opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“The legalization of settlement outposts in the West Bank will make these outposts a national priority in terms of allocating funds to them, paving roads linking them to neighboring settlements and main streets, exempting them from taxes, and transforming them in the future to be part of a large settlement close to them,” he said.

Al-Tafakji said that what concerns him most is that because a significant part of the new government is likely to include extreme right-wing politicians such as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, who hail from settlement backgrounds, Netanyahu might appear more moderate.

There are 145 settlements in the West Bank, in which about 550,000 settlers live, 15 settlements in East Jerusalem that are home 230,000 settlers, and 170 illegal outposts. All settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. Most of the settlement outposts are in the Jordan Valley or the Hebron area in the southern West Bank, Al-Tafakji said, and they represent a clear existential threat to the Palestinian dream of a state of their own

Younes Arar, director of international relations at the Settlement and Wall Resistance Commission, told Arab News that the growing threat of legalization of settlement outposts comes amid an increase in the pace of demolitions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank in recent days. This is in addition to moves to return settlers to outposts previously vacated by an Israeli political decision, including Avitar, south of Nablus, and Tarslah, near Jenin, he said.

Benny Gantz, who was defense minister in the previous coalition government, strongly criticized the plans to place Ben-Gvir in control of the Border Guard as part of the coalition agreement with Netanyahu.

Gantz, who has accused Ben-Gvir of establishing a private militia, warned against the politicization of the army. There is a consensus among the public on this issue, he told Channel 12 news on Monday.

“I am confident that the leaders and the Israeli army will not acquiesce in the illegal demands in the army,” he said.

Gantz also criticized a reported agreement to transfer the oversight unit in the Israeli Civil Administration that handles civilian and humanitarian affairs of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party.

Meanwhile, Israel has announced that it will now be an offense punishable by three years in prison for Arab-Israelis or Israelis to take their vehicles to Palestinian garages in the West Bank for repair. Dozens of garages in the West Bank, especially in towns and villages close to the border with Israel, are popular with Jews and Israeli Arabs because they are relatively cheap.

The crackdown follows a recent incident in which an Israeli Druze teenager, Tiran Fero, died as a result of a car accident when he took his car to a garage in Jenin for repair.

After his death, Palestinian gunmen took the body, which threatened to cause a major security crisis in the Jenin camp as tensions rose between the Druze community and Palestinians. The body was subsequently handed over following intervention from officials on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting

Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting
Updated 35 min 18 sec ago

Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting

Yemen leader visits Jordan to push for Houthi blacklisting
  • Meanwhile, the country’s foreign minister urges the international community to support government efforts to punish the Iran-backed militia

AL-MUKALLA: Rashad Al-Alimi, the chairperson of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, arrived in the Jordanian capital Amman on Monday in his continuing efforts to build international support for punishing the Iran-backed Houthis for their escalating attacks on government-controlled areas and the country’s oil infrastructure.

Yemen’s official Saba News Agency reported that Al-Alimi, who was accompanied by two council members, will meet King Abdullah II and other Jordanian officials to discuss the war in Yemen and lobby for international support to counter Houthi threats to international maritime traffic off the coast of the country.

Yemen’s internationally recognized government has stepped up its diplomatic pressure to gain international support for labeling the Houthi militia as a terrorist group and persuade the world to publicly denounce them for targeting oil terminals in southern Yemen over the past two months.

Al-Alimi’s visit to Jordan came a day after the Presidential Council approved, following three days of deliberation, a number of measures in response to the Houthi drone attacks on the oil facilities. The steps include the blacklisting of Houthi leaders and organizations, and the sanctioning of traders who deal with or support them, in an effort to target the militia’s financial resources.

The council also ordered the revival of government agencies involved in counterterrorism efforts and defending state infrastructure against Houthi threats.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awadh bin Mubarak urged the international community to support Yemen’s efforts to punish the Houthis. He told the US ambassador to the country, Steven H. Fagin, that the designation of the Houthis as terrorists would help to curb their deadly attacks and encourage them to stop blocking peace efforts designed to end the war.

Despite the government pressure, the Houthis continue to launch assaults on state-controlled sites around the nation, resulting in casualties and property damage.

According to local media reports on Monday, heavy fighting broke out between government soldiers and Houthis in the southern province of Lahj during the previous 24 hours as the Houthis began a fresh offensive in Al-Qabbabeh district. Several government soldiers and an African migrant reportedly were killed or injured in the fighting.

The Houthis also launched a barrage of Katyusha rockets at a village west of the Hays district in the western province of Hodeidah, local media reported. There were no casualties. The government’s Joint Forces in the area responded by targeting the Houthis responsible for the launches.

In Sanaa on Sunday, the Houthis held funeral processions for nine military personnel of various ranks who had been killed in battles with government troops.

Meanwhile, at least 10 soldiers were injured on Monday in the southern province of Abyan during a patrol when their vehicle triggered a roadside bomb in the Omaran valley, a local military official told Arab News. Similar devices have killed three soldiers and wounded 15 in the valley and neighboring areas since early last week, the source said.

In September, pro-independence Yemeni forces declared that they had taken complete control of the Omaran valley, which had long been used by Al-Qaeda militants as a base for hiding, training and planning attacks.


Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity

Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity
Updated 28 November 2022

Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity

Arab League meeting prioritizes food insecurity
  • Subcommittee follows up on implementing strategic framework for UN Zero Hunger goal

CAIRO: The Arab League held the region’s eighth meeting of the Subcommittee for Hunger Eradication, Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture on Monday, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Chaired by Sudan, it focused on implementing “UN Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger,” which aims to eliminate food insecurity and malnutrition in the region. 

Nada El Agizy, director of sustainable development and international cooperation at the Arab League, said that food security is a top priority for joint Arab action.

She emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts and called for the strengthening of existing partnerships, as well as the formation of new ones, to address the challenges. 

The “Strategic Framework for Zero Hunger in the Arab Region” was launched in February during the fourth Arab Week for Sustainable Development in Cairo.

A UN study in June 2021 warned that hunger in the Arab region was on the rise and threatened the area’s efforts to achieve freedom from it by 2030.