Disabled people deprived from their rights in Lebanon: The inadequate implementation of a promising law

Editor's note: This investigative piece was submitted to Global Young Voices by Lebanese American University student Rana Bou Saada and was written by Saada and classmate Hala Nasreddine to shed light on the violation of the rights of disabled people in Lebanon.

Upon completing her graduate studies, Rimane Rammal was looking forward to working as a professional translator. However, when she applied to a movies’ translation company, the manager instantly turned her down. His reply simply was, “Sorry, we cannot hire disabled people.”

Due to her mild infantile paralysis, Rammal limps slightly. Unfortunately, she is not the only disabled person whose rights are violated. Rammal’s plight is akin to many others within the Lebanese state.

Disabled children and their families protest in Beirut on April 18, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Jamal Saidi

Disabled children and their families protest in Beirut on April 18, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Jamal Saidi

According to a report published by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October 2015, 10 percent of the Lebanese population, the equivalent of 400,000 citizens, faces physical or mental disabilities.

In May 2000, the Lebanese State issued law 220 to ensure the rights of disabled people. Seven years later, in June 2007, it signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But the inadequate implementation of these laws has deprived disabled Lebanese people from their basic rights.

The right to decent work

After an extensive quest for a job, Rammal was finally employed in a translation agency, in Corniche El Mazraa, Beirut. The long-awaited opportunity soon turned out a disappointment, as the young sworn translator faced discriminatory work conditions.

“The job was rather exploitation," Rammal said. "I had to work for long hours and bring my own laptop to the office. The employer claimed I would not find a better job elsewhere.”

Article 27 of the UN Convention, stated in the below box, has nonetheless ensured the right of disabled people to decent work.

States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to work, on an equal basis with others; this includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labor market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.
— International Convention: Article 27 - Work and employment

In this regard, law 220 has specified that three percent of public sector employees ought to be disabled. Ziad Abdel Samad, Human Rights instructor at the Lebanese American University and Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), explained that the State is still trying to reach this objective.

Abdel Samad attributed the inadequacy of the State’s efforts to the absence of implementation decrees. “Different ministries should issue implementation decrees, in order to reinforce and facilitate the application of law 220," he said.

Imad Eddine Raef, Press Officer of the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU), indicated that “the Civil Service Board announces available employment opportunities.

Although disabled and non-disabled candidates can equally apply for the job, only few disabled people are chosen.” Raef added that CSB employees themselves use degrading expressions, such as the word “deformity”, whose usage was originally banned by the law 220.

The right to a disability card

According to law 220, disabled people are entitled to a “disability card”, which grants them different social and medical public services. However, Raef specified that “this card isn’t accepted in many hospitals. Until today, many disabled people do not even know about it.”

Rammal agreed, describing the card as “an empty promise. Many of my acquaintances are not familiar with the card or its services,” she added.

Nassib El Soleh, general manager of Al Amal institute for mentally disabled persons, noted that, “the UN only counted card holders in its research about disabled persons. It thus estimated mentally disabled people to be around three percent of the total Lebanese population.”

However, he expects the actual percentage to be higher than that, as “patients’ families are not always willing to request a disability card.” Not only might they face social discrimination, “dealing with the Lebanese State can also be distressing,” El Soleh mentioned.

The right to education

Every disabled person has the right to get an education, as the law guarantees equal educational opportunities for all disabled persons, children and adults, in all kinds of educational institutions, particularly in regular classes, or private ones when needed.
— Law 220/2000: Section 7: Article 59

Akin to the domestic law, the international convention - signed by the Lebanese state in 2007 - emphasizes the right to education “without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunity.”

The Lebanese Civil Society - such as LPHU, the Youth Association of the Blind, the Lebanese Down Syndrome Association and other NGOs - critiques the implementation of this right, in its report presented to the UN and published in the UPR.

The state “still adopts the policy of isolating people with disabilities,” as only one percent of the disabled youth is enrolled in regular official schools.

Civil society thus urges the state to “allocate [the needed] budget to achieve an inclusive educational system,” and hence harmonize the reality with the provisions of the domestic law and international convention.

The political dimension

The inadequate laws’ application lies within the Lebanese political system itself. Both former Prime Ministers Saad El Hariri and Najib Mikati held the implementation decree of the rights of disabled people and the ratification of the international convention as a priority in their agendas.

After the dissolution of the two governments, the ministerial statement of Tammam Salam’s temporary government disregarded the topic of disabled people’s rights. Procedures to implement relevant laws seemed to have been dismissed.

Moreover, in Mikati’s government, Wael Bou Faour, Ali Hasan Khalil and Muhamad Al Safadi were respectively holding the ministries of Social Affairs, Health and Finance.

Back then, they had a clear framework and an inclusive plan to implement related laws and ensure the rights of disabled people. In the subsequent government, the three ministers switched among these three ministries. Yet, none of them raised the case of the rights of people with disabilities again.

The State’s report

As for the State’s position, it confirmed in a report presented to the United Nations in October 2015 that, “persons with disabilities enjoy 100 percent medical coverage.” It also specified that it had “announced measures in 2011 aimed at admitting persons with disabilities to employment contests in the public sector.”

The official authorities have nonetheless acknowledged in this report that “their efforts remain insufficient and have not yet lived up to the hopes and aspirations invested in them.”

Recommendations

Abdel Samad and Raef both provided similar plausible recommendations to reinforce the application of the existing laws. The Lebanese State ought to ratify the International Convention and thus adapt the domestic law to international guidelines.

Moreover, it should issue implementation decrees to regulate the application of law 220.

Hence, only when theoretical laws are effectively applied, will disabled people benefit from their rights. Only then will Rammal and thousands of others feel equally integrated and fully empowered.