UN rights chief: response to Lebanon crisis should ensure freedoms

Michelle Bachelet says Lebanese people must have say in how country emerges from political and economic crisis

epa08638951 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Chilean Michelle Bachelet, wearing a protective face mask against the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, listens to a speech during a panel discussion titled 'Journalists at risk - Let's protect media freedom!', at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 01 September 2020.  EPA/SALVATORE DI NOLFI
Powered by automated translation

The international response to last month's Beirut port explosion must ensure rights are protected so people can have a say in needed reforms for the country, the UN human rights chief said on Wednesday.

Michelle Bachelet said international powers and the “new government in Lebanon, once established, must collectively place human rights at the centre of a short-term response and a long-term recovery".

Ms Bachelet was addressing a panel organised by the Beirut Institute Summit, a day after Lebanon’s political class failed to form a  government before a deadline agreed to with French President Emmanuel Macron two weeks ago.

She said reforms “should realise, not undermine, the right of the population".

People probably feel that they do not have the spaces to have their voices heard

Lebanon’s finances began a meltdown in the last three months of 2019 as the credit ratings deteriorated and bans on foreign currency withdrawals were imposed to stop a run on the banks.

The value of the Lebanese pound tumbled and the government defaulted on its foreign debt in March this year.

Mr Macron has been in Beirut twice since the explosion at Beirut port on August 4, promoting a political initiative and promising aid in return for reforms, and for endorsing a candidate France backed for prime minister.

The ammonium nitrate explosion killed at least 190 people and showed the official dysfunction in Lebanon since the end of the civil war in 1990.

Beirut port blast in pictures 

But independent Lebanese figures have warned that Mr Macron was putting proposed reforms at the mercy of Hezbollah by agreeing with them to name a prime minister widely considered to be weak.

Mustapha Adib, a diplomat who received approval from the traditional political players in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, has little independent backing and no members of Parliament.

Mr Adib was given the task of forming a government on August 31 but has yet to announce any progress.

Mr Adib is a protege of Sunni billionaire and former prime minister Najib Mikati.

Under Lebanon’s sectarian political system, the prime minister has to be Sunni, the president a Maronite Christian and the parliamentary speaker Shiite.

The last prime minister, Hassan Diab, resigned after the port explosion.

Under Mr Diab's tenure, which started in January, the authorities tried to pass reforms to salvage the economy, handle the Covid-19 pandemic and placate a popular uprising that began in October.

The movement demanded the total removal of the political class.

Ms Bachelet, who was the president of Chile for two terms, said it was critical “that human rights are integrated into the emergency response to address the needs of all affected population".

“The authorities must ensure the protection of the rights of peaceful assembly, expression and opinion,” she said.

At recent protests, security officers have opened fire with live ammunition and several protesters have been badly wounded.

“People probably feel that they do not have the spaces to have their voices heard and to be really able to influence the process,” Ms Bachelet said.