The case for a Ministry of Human Rights in Lebanon

We can prove to be the Black Swan, our MoHR will stand a much better chance if it’s kept out of political rope pullin

Reina Sarkis

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As a psychoanalyst, researcher and Lebanese citizen, who has collaborated with NGOs and worked on the field for the past 10 years, I have come to realize that a major absentee when it comes to addressing human rights violations in Lebanon is its government.

It is based on this simple observation that the initiative of creating a Ministry of Human Rights, MoHR in Lebanon struck me as the most obvious, natural “next step” in light of the rapidly and exponentially deteriorating human rights conditions in Lebanon.

Whether in quantity or quality, daily accounts of human rights violations have become seriously worrisome and alarming.

In light of the fact that over 16,000 Lebanese NGOs are officially registered in the Ministry of Interior, I am not sure what is scarier: the massive number of these organizations, with their sole raison d’être being directly or indirectly related to Human Rights, or in parallel the colossal breaches of these same rights and the scandals they never cease to cause: it just doesn’t add up.

But here’s an explanation to the paradox; finding logic is always liberating. The fact that the considerable majority of these NGOs end up, sooner rather than later as ghost entities, that are non-efficient and non-active, is somehow a relief, as it reduces the absurdity of the outcome.

In fact, the few who are active and doing a good, and sometimes great, job either do not know of each other’s existence, or when they do, and when they serve the same cause, often perceive each other as competitors and work in a counterproductive manner to the detriment of the initial reason for which they came to exist.

I have had some very sad and even traumatic experiences trying to collaborate with quite a few NGOs…
In any case, even if we were to believe that all 16,000 Lebanese NGOs are held by devoted saints, one thing is certain; they are obviously totally swamped and overwhelmed by the needs of the terrain which intriguingly seems to be getting worse, not better.

Immense void

It is there for an almost zero risk deduction to say that all the efforts deployed by civil society, although remarkably noble and appraisable, remain severely insufficient in scope to fight the incessantly growing number of human rights violations. More and more cases of violated and murdered women make it to the news; the incessant denouncement of which, combined with public demonstrations of protests led by active NGOs have only succeeded in making the parliament vote a half-aborted law against “domestic” violence. Establishing that fact and adding to it the full blast human invasion of one and a half million Syrian refuges to a country of only 4 million inhabitants, we find ourselves in an inacceptable and unsustainable situation.

We can prove to be the Black Swan, our MoHR will stand a much better chance if it’s kept out of political rope pulling

Reina Sarkis

There is clearly an immense void waiting to be filled by a ministry of human rights; a MoHR that aligns with international values, which in theory, Lebanon signed up to in the 40s. The MoHR should be created to secure sustainability in the country if Lebanon wants to live up to its image –or save what’s left of it- of openness, freedom, diversity, culture, education and all other values carried by the international convention.

Where are government policies from all that?

On the other hand, isn’t it a recognized sociopolitical fact that civil society is most active when government actions and policies exist? If nothing else, the huge numbers of registered NOGs gives us a loud and clear idea of the enormity of the government’s absence!

Moreover, I cannot think of one international institute, from U.N. offices dealing with human rights issues to Human Watch, Amnesty International, the EU commission, USAID and everything in between, that does not have an antenna here in Lebanon. The relation of all of the above with various NGOs remains linear and efforts move horizontally. It is high time to triangulate this relation and make it rise to a healthy pyramid of centralization and transparency. This is where a Ministry of Human Rights comes in. It is evident that the answer is not by creating additional NGOs.

Around the world

The human rights file is a crucial issue and it deserves to be given its rightful, symbolic and effective place.

The research I have done to see what’s happening out there and whether other countries have such a ministry has revealed that it is only those with serious violations of human rights that have, understandably, adopted an MoHR are Pakistan, Brazil, Serbia, Peru, Iraq, Greece, Iceland, Indonesia, New Zealand, Yemen and more recently Tunisia.

Three of those countries made it to the gloomy top 10 worldwide countries with highest score of human rights violations. This goes to show us that such initiative comes as a response to a serious and national problem. A problem serious enough to assign a full ministry to it.

While one (or many) might rightfully argue that the above mentioned countries continue to suffer from dreadful human rights violations and their ministries have a poor performance, I say the problem is never in the enterprise itself but in its executives.

In that regard, we can prove to be the Black Swan, our MoHR will stand a much better chance if it’s kept out of political rope pulling, it will also need to be and remain an independent entity, as in opposite of being twinned with other ministries such as the one of Interior, Justice or Social Affairs.

A country is measured by the worst and not the best it has to show for, I am sure I am not alone with my irritated rictus at the desuetude Lebanese formula of swimming and skiing on the same day. Lebanon today is a country where a woman is killed by her husband and a horde of refugees has crossed its frontiers in the same day… Not exactly a tourist attraction.

Reina Milad Sarkis is a leading psychoanalyst, spearheading a number of groundbreaking initiatives in her native Lebanon and abroad. Sarkis currently runs her own practice and for nearly a decade has been focusing her research and her work around topics related to Human Rights. Most recently, Sarkis established a program to provide group therapy for torture victims, breaking with social norms that pressure the victim into silence. The program is the first of its kind in Lebanon and the region, attracting the attention of both local and international media. Leading initiatives, such as co-founding the group “Springhints” which carried out an extensive survey on reforms in Lebanon, culminating with the publication “Reforms; the Spring of Interrogations”, and “Citizen L” a group of academics who take interest in political matters and reforms, which places the Lebanese citizen at the center of its priorities, Sarkis’s aim is to generate debate and grassroots movement to galvanize Lebanese society towards reform. Sarkis is also an associate researcher at Collège de France and IFPO Institut Français du Proche-Orient, sits on the editing board of Transeuropéennes, an international journal of critical thought, is a member of SIHPP International Society of History of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, and a professor at USJ Université Saint Joseph where she teaches doctorate students in the psychology department a seminar about “living memory and testimonials.”

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