While Lebanon is one of the few countries in the Middle East and North Africa region where human rights defenders (HRDs) and international human rights NGOs have been able to operate, challenges persists in relation to freedom of association, assembly and expression. Moreover, the continuing civil conflict in Syria has fuelled sectarian polarisation in Lebanon and furthered the armed activities of Shi'i and Sunni militias. This situation has resulted in increasing security threats to HRDs, particularly those who document human rights abuses committed by non-state actors or the warring parties in Syria.
The Lebanese authorities have denied official recognition to groups working on issues deemed sensitive. In December 2014, six Lebanese workers submitted a request to the Labour Ministry to form a union for domestic workers, who are excluded from the protection of the Labour Code and are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. However, they have received no response to the request, and the Labour Minister publicly denounced the union as illegal. The authorities have also left LGBTI organisations in an administrative limbo by not granting nor denying registration. Helem Association, the first LGBTI organisation in Arab world, has never received a registration number from the Ministry of Interior despite submitting its notice of association to the Lebanese government in 2004.
Although Article 12 of the Lebanese constitution guarantees the freedom of expression, legal provisions on defamation are very broad, and state and non-state actors have used them to initiate proceedings against HRDs, particularly those who are speaking out against torture or enforced disappearances. Leaders of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights were charged with defamation and false accusations following the publication in 2011 of a report that denounced the practice of torture in the country. Proceedings remained pending in 2015.
Bloggers and online journalists have been repeatedly intimidated by the Cyber Crime Bureau of the Ministry of Interior. The Bureau has issued summons to individuals, including HRDs, for expressing views on twitter, Facebook, or blogs. Furthermore, some bloggers were pressured by the Bureau to sign a commitment that they will not tackle certain issues online.
Around 1.1 million Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon. Restrictions imposed on their movement and activities affect Syrian HRDs who had to seek refuge in Lebanon. Syrian and Palestinian human rights defenders feel increasingly insecure and vulnerable to detention because of delays and obstacles to prolong their residency visa.