Lebanon – The Death Penalty – UN Human Rights Council – March 2015

The Advocates for Human Rights the Lebanese Coalition against the Death Penalty submitted a joint stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council for the November 2015 Universal Periodic Review of Lebanon. The joint stakeholder report addresses on Lebanon’s international human rights obligations with regard to the use of the death penalty. The report concludes that prison conditions on death row in Lebanon are degrading and makes recommendations that steps be taken to alleviate such conditions. These steps include reducing the maximum possible sentence from death to one that is fair, proportionate, and respects international human rights standards, issuing a de jure moratorium, and instituting an appeals process for all decisions issued by the Judicial Council.

Lebanon has suspended its use of the death penalty through a de facto moratorium, but death remains a potential punishment for several offenses. Lebanese authorities have not carried out  the death penalty since the execution of three people in 2004, but courts are still sentencing to death and between 55 and 60 prisoners are currently on death row.

UN Member States made several recommendations to Lebanon during the 2010 Universal Periodic Review, but Lebanon merely noted them. The recommendations included: abolishing the death penalty; commuting existing death sentences to a prison sentence; and considering the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Lebanon’s death row prisons fail to provide the minimum necessities of life. Lebanon’s prisons are seriously overcrowded and Roumieh, the largest prison in Lebanon, is currently filled to more than double its capacity.  The overcrowding causes and exacerbates other degrading conditions, such as unsanitary cells and violence, and is thus one of the most challenging problems facing the criminal justice system in Lebanon. Death of prisoners is quite common.  In Roumieh, about fifty prisoners have died since 2007, and in 2011, at least 50 and possibly more than 140 prisoners suffered food poisoning.  

Adding to the overcrowding is the general practice of lengthy pre-trial incarceration for defendants and lack of adequate legal representation for defendants facing the death penalty. Lebanon lacks a state-funded office of the public defender. As a result, defendants facing the death penalty often are unrepresented or lack sufficient legal representation. Volunteer legal aid is scarce, and these unpaid volunteer attorneys often miss hearings and fail to adequately meet with their clients.

The lack of legal representation is particularly egregious in cases before the Judicial Council, where defendants, who are generally poor migrants who can ill-afford legal representation, are not presumed innocent. Sentences issued by the Judicial Council are moreover not subject to appeal, violating the right to review of a conviction and sentence by a higher tribunal and the right to a mandatory appeal for death sentences. The Military Court, which issues most death sentences, does not permit retrials or appeals.