Lebanon passes law criminalizing sexual harassment, amends domestic violence law

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Lebanon's parliament on Monday passed a landmark bill criminalizing sexual harassment and amended a controversial domestic violence law, in a move rights groups criticized as incomplete.

The new law "criminalizes sexual harassment, especially in the workplace", the official National News Agency reported.

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Per the law, perpetrators can be sentenced to up to two years in prison and fined up to 20 times the value of the minimum wage, which stands at 675,000 Lebanese pounds ($450 at the official exchange rate but less than $100 on the black market), according to Lebanese rights group Legal Agenda.

Maximum penalties are reserved for harassment in the work place, public institutions or educational facilities.

The United Nation's envoy to Lebanon, Jan Kubis, called the law a "welcome step".

But Legal Agenda said the legislation fails to protect victims of harassment.

Karim Nammour, a lawyer with the group, said the law only allows for victims to make use of the criminal justice system and not the civil courts, "which means the case will be public".

"This is a major obstacle for victims and does not give them the incentive to file complaints."

Another problem, according to Nammour, is that the law places on the victim "the burden of proving the harassment and its consequences", rather than requiring the perpetrator to prove his or her innocence.

Parliament also expanded the scope of a law penalizing domestic violence.

The legislation has been in force since 2014, but rights groups have censured it for defining domestic violence too narrowly and failing to specifically criminalize marital rape.

On Monday, parliament broadened the law so that it now "penalizes economic and psychological violence", said Leila Awada, a lawyer with women's rights group KAFA.

UN Women Lebanon praised the law's endorsement of "important protection-related measures that strengthen the legal framework to end violence against women" in the country.

But it did not lay down penalties for marital rape.

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, called this a "glaring omission".

"Marriage to the victim should not exempt a sexual offender from punishment," she told AFP.

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