Lebanon yesterday commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at a special ceremony held at the UN House in downtown Beirut.
"It is a day for those who are still denied their human rights to dream again of asserting them, and to know that their dream is our dream- the dream of all human rights for all, " said UN Chief Kofi Annan in a statement read by the under secretary-general for the region, Hazem Al-Biblawi.
Annan renewed the UN's commitment to conquer injustice and cruelty throughout the world. In his statement, he also affirmed that it was both a day to celebrate the rights attained over the past 50 years, to remember those rights which have been denied, and to " broaden the horizon of human rights until that day when no man is tortured, no women is abused and no child is denied his dignity."
But as Annan's statement was being read inside the UN House, a sit-in organized by the UN Human Rights Committee and local NGOs was being held outside. Speakers stressed that intensive efforts still had to be made by the UN, world governments and NGOs to ensure the full implementation of the Human Rights Declaration. The sit-in mainly denounced Israel's ongoing aggressions against the southerners and the inhuman detention of Lebanese in its jails.
Throughout the week, lectures, debates, and conferences had been organized by various organizations in Lebanon and in different areas across the country to address the issue of human rights in Lebanon.
On December 10, 1948, Lebanese thinker and philosopher, Charles Malik contributed to the drafting of the final text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with Eleanor Roosevelt and Rene Cassin.
Malik wrote the preamble to the declaration, which was adopted by the UN without any changes. He also contributed to drafting the 30-article declaration. He was mainly responsible for those articles that deal with religious freedom, marriage and the family. One of his articles stipulated that all the rights within the declaration are guaranteed and all the freedoms set out were inalienable.
Malik's distinguished career was marked by his appointment as the first Lebanese ambassador to the United States and representative to the UN from 1945 to 1955. Malik signed the UN Charter on behalf of his country in 1945 in San Francisco.
In 1958, Malik was elected president of the UN General Assembly for one year. He also chaired the Security Council three times and headed several UN committees and sub-committees. On December 28, 1987, Malik died after a long battle with cancer.
As Lebanon and the world mark the Golden Jubilee of the International Declaration of Human Rights, there are still 135 Lebanese prisoners held at the Israeli-run Khiam Detention Camp and another 45 detained in Israeli jails.
Many are accused of affiliating with the Lebanese Resistance. Some have refused to joint the Israeli Allied Miltia in South Lebanon. But those Lebanese detainees are being held there without charge or trial under inhumane conditions and systematic torture.
Reports issued by Amnesty International reveal that detainees in Israeli jails are subject to flogging, electrocution, beating, and cold and hot water thrown at them simultaneously. They can only speak of the horrors inside once released.
Mothers of Lebanese children detained by Israel gathered outside the UN House in Beirut to protest the inhuman detention of their loved ones in a message they delivered to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Many of them wept while holding the pictures of their little ones and grabbing the hands of their other children.
In their letter to the UN Chief, mothers accused Israel of violating the fundamental rights of children. Their message also cited articles from the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Among the 135 Lebanese prisoners being held in Khiam, there are 12 children under the age of 18. Those children, as many other detainees, are being detained without charge or trial in clear violation of international standards.
The International Red Cross Committee organizes family visits to relatives in Khiam every three months. But mothers have to stand more than a meter away and are not allowed to hug or even touch their loved little ones.
Under the patronage of House Speaker Nabih Berri, the UNICEF office in Lebanon released its annual report focusing this year on education as a basic right for all.
UNICEF Regional Director, Ibrahim Fall, stressed the issue of education is "non-negotiable" regardless of the economic difficulties faced by countries in providing free education for all. He added education is a basic human right and not making it available to all children is a clear violation of that right. The report also called on giving girls a greater access to schools as Fall argued, "The girls today are the women of tomorrow and development simply cannot happen without the involvement of women."
Fall called on the Lebanese government to do all it can to make sure any obstacles standing in the way of providing education for all children are overcome. Lebanon passed a law in March making primary school education compulsory. But the government is facing increasing student numbers in its public schools as a result of high private school tuition fees. As a result, the problem of child labor can be directly related to the missed opportunity of education.
One year ago, a council was established in Beirut to help women who are subject to domestic violence. Throughout this year, the council tired to provide battered women with psychological and legal counseling. Its main plan focused on raising awareness against violation to the basic rights of women.
Today, the council is participating in a regional campaign that is taking place in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and Yemen to launch several activities related to women's human rights. Entitled "The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence", the campaign coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The council recently issued a study documenting the cases of dozens of battered women in Lebanon. The council asserts that tackling the problem of domestic violence requires some practical measures to be followed in providing help and advice for victims of such violence. In this study, the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women aimed at raising awareness that this problem really exists in Lebanon and many women suffer from such a violation of basic human rights.
Although silence prevails when it comes to violent practices against women and the mere discussion of violence is considered a taboo, the council believes the only way to resolve this problem in our country is through admitting its presence and confronting it.
In highlighting specific cases of domestic violence, the council aims at carrying these cases from their personal perspective to a more general and social one. On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the council reiterated their call on all Lebanese women who are subject to domestic violence to dial a hot line (03-829809) and share their problem with someone who can help.
Some might ask: How can the plight of refugees in Lebanon be addressed at a time when the country still has to deal with its own huge problem of those Lebanese people who were displaced from their homes and villages during the devastating civil war years?
And others might say: Lebanon is a country that is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees and therefore provides only temporary asylum to those who flee persecution at home.
But still some would argue: If the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that persecuted people have the right not to be driven out from their countries, then their basic rights to food, shelter, healthcare and education must run in parallel.
Whatever the argument is, refugees in Lebanon lead a life of hardships. Although they enjoy the right to admission and to temporary stay, refugees are still denied the right to work and many of them are in real need.
But once they are recognized by the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees, they enjoy rights to freedom of movement through documents issued by the commission.
The UN Higher Commission for Refugees' Beirut office hopes negotiations with the Lebanese government would result in the expansion of refugee rights in this country. UNHCR officials here also stress the importance of raising public awareness about the plight of refugees in Lebanon.
With the rest of the country and the whole world marking the 50th anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, the disabled in Lebanon had little to celebrate on that day.
People with disabilities here face a life of hardships with very little done by the government to ease their suffering in the absence of legislation, inadequate transportation facilities, unemployment, and lack of proper health services.
The Lebanese Wheelchair Association (LWA) issued a statement on the occasion lamenting the condition of the disabled and the discrimination they face in their own country. "In Lebanon, we are still struggling to convince people that the disabled have a right to exist," the statement said.
The Ministry of Social Affairs, which includes a special department for the disabled, prepared a draft bill in June securing some rights of the disabled people in Lebanon to be presented to cabinet. But ministers agreed to indefinitely postpone discussions on the subject. LWA officials plan to lobby for its endorsement before the new cabinet.
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