Stop the slavery in Lebanon
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The US State Department issued on Monday its annual Trafficking in Persons report, and the horrifying litany of abuses catalogued from Lebanon and throughout this region should be more than enough to push our legislators to finally enact a law against trafficking.
Yes, that’s right – Lebanon does not even have on the books the most basic legislation against trade in human beings. A draft amendment to the labor laws is waiting and waiting in Parliament, and we call without reservation on lawmakers to pass this bill as soon as possible.
That glaring absence of rudimentary legislation served as one of the failures that dumped Lebanon into second-tier status in the trafficking report, and Qatar also finished in that ignominious category, as far as other Arab states are concerned. Should the circumstances here further worsen, we could yet find ourselves in the third and lowest tier of countries – nations which are not even making significant efforts to combat human trafficking. Unfortunately, we would find there a number of our regional brethren: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan and Iran all lack laws against trafficking and any marked moves to address the problem.
In Lebanon, the violations of human rights through trafficking take a variety of forms. For instance,
more than 4,500 visas were granted last year alone to allow the entry into Lebanon of “artistes” from Eastern Europe, Morocco and Tunisia. We never knew there was so much art in this country. But this is not a humorous matter – in Lebanon we have a visa category which exists only to let trade flourish in trafficked sex workers. The government must abolish this disgrace immediately.
In addition, we call on parliamentary deputies to grant legal protections to all foreign workers here and to reform the visa system, which essentially gives employment sponsors the status of slave masters. This sponsorship system creates the ideal conditions to foster trafficking and forced labor. Foreign workers – whether female domestic workers or male construction laborers – cannot change jobs or leave the country without the consent of their sponsors.
Over the years, we have recorded in these pages the nearly unavoidable consequences of such a system: Lebanese employers confiscate the passports of their foreign wards and subject them to the spectrum of abuse, from beatings and sexual harassment to the withholding of wages and confinement. A number of nongovernmental organizations have released countless reports – entirely verified and credible reports, we should add – of foreign workers driven to attack their employers, to flee unbearable conditions and even to commit suicide. We wholeheartedly condemn the abuse of our fellow humans through trafficking, and we demand that our legislature without delay approve the basic elements of international law in order to defend those who cannot defend themselves.