Position Statement on the Syrian Protests before the UNHCR in Beirut

11 November 2020
Position Statement – Paris/Beirut

Several weeks ago, a group of Syrian refugees in Lebanon launched a protest movement by carrying out a sit-in in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Beirut. Although the Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) does not encourage refugees to continue protesting and does not attempt to repress the movement considering the harsh living conditions of refugees, however ACHR finds it necessary to remind the UNHCR and the Lebanese authorities that peaceful assembly is a basic human right. 

A group of approximately 150 refugees has been holding a daily sit-in in front of the UNHCR head office in Beirut for 27 days (the number of occupants is approximately sixty refugees, with others joining them on a daily basis), as a result of the deteriorating economic and living circumstances in the country. Refugees have difficulty securing the basic needs of their families, due to scarce aid and insufficient response to their demands by the UNHCR, the entity concerned with the care of refugees in Lebanon. 

Although ACHR is entirely certain that the UNHCR is generally striving to provide possible assistance to refugees, it has not intervened at the expected level, even when one of the protesters burned himself in front of UNHCR on 5 November 2020 and died this morning on 11 November 2020 because of the miserable conditions refugees suffer from.  

Some employees of the security company contracted with the UNHCR began negotiating on behalf of the relevant UNHCR staff, and ACHR has drawn the attention of the UN Refugee agency to this matter numerous times, as the security employees are dealing with the protestors in an unprofessional manner in order to pressure them to break up the sit-in. 

ACHR condemns the assault of the Lebanese authorities on one of the Syrian refugee demonstrator, who was severely beaten, leaving him with physical and psychological damage, a fact confirmed by a Judicial Medical Examiner assigned by the ACHR team to look into this assault and document its facts. 

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ACHR affirms that the right to protest is considered a constitutional right, as it is directly related to the freedom of opinion and expression enshrined in the Lebanese Constitution. Moreover, Lebanon has ratified several international conventions that protect the right to protest, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which preserves the right to peaceful assembly without any restrictions other than those stipulated by law and which are considered necessary in a democratic society. The Lebanese authorities are therefore obligated to take all necessary measures to protect the right of protesters at peaceful assemblies. 

Thus, the Access Center for Human Rights calls on the authorities in Lebanon to respect their international obligations, particularly the following: 

• Fulfill its international obligations to protect the freedoms of assembly and expression, by allowing demonstrators to peacefully assemble without fear of repression or arrest. Security forces must also refrain from using intimidation, excessive force, and arbitrary arrest against peaceful demonstrators. 

• Provide an official clarification regarding the violations that refugee protesters are exposed to in front of the UNHCR head office in Beirut. 

Considering the inability of the UN Refugee Agency in Lebanon to intervene in emergency situations and to protect the demonstrators in front of its head office in Beirut, we suggest that it appears directly before the international community and announce its inability to fulfill its responsibilities and present an explanation, including the pressures exerted on it by the Lebanese authorities. 

Supporting organizations/institutions:

Amals Healing and Advocacy center
Basamat for Development
Centre d’accès pour les droits de l’homme (ACHR)/France
Justice et développement durable
Horan Foundation
Humena for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
Kareemat organization
International humanitarian relief- IHR
Lebanese Center for Human Rights
Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR)
Women now for development