The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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April 21, 2015

The Daily Star - Initiative launched to end interference in the judiciary, April 21, 2015

Ghinwa Obeid

NGO Legal Agenda launched a new project to promote the independence of Lebanon’s judiciary Monday, an initiative it hopes will gain public support as citizens realize the danger of meddling by the country’s political and religious elite.

The EU-funded program Support to Reinforce the Independence of the Judiciary is aimed at promoting equality and impartiality in the justice system.

Work on the program began in November 2014, following its launch at the Bar Association, and is expected to continue until November 2017. Legal Agenda is implementing the program in collaboration with the International Commission of Jurists and the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences.

Higher Judicial Council head Judge Jean Fahed, Shura Council head Judge Shukri Sader, Justice Ministry representative Judge Maysam al-Noueiri and the head of the political section of the EU’s Lebanese delegation, Maciej Golubiewski, were among those present for the launch.

“In our estimation, interference in the judiciary has reached a high level,” Nizar Saghieh, executive director of Legal Agenda, told The Daily Star. “It has become something very normal to interfere in the judiciary.”

Saghieh said there is a culture of intrusion into the affairs of the judiciary in Lebanon that has reached an unacceptable level.

The pressure comes from both political and religious corners, and even from within the judiciary itself, he said. Meddling is weakening both the judiciary’s authority and people’s trust, he added.

“When we say ‘interference in the judiciary,’ we mean that there’s an influential person who can interfere and has priority over average citizens,” Saghieh explained. “As interference increases, equality diminishes and people’s attachment to leaders grows, [they seek their protection] as they feel that the judge isn’t capable [of protecting them].”

Saghieh said the project was analyzing the different forms of intervention, and trying to raise public awareness of the problem.

“What we are trying to do today is give this issue a social character, and get society to feel that [an independent judiciary] is a priority that needs to be defended. This is the new thing in the project.”

Legal Agenda is also working on a report that reflects the depth of corruption in Lebanon’s judiciary, in hope that it will constitute research material for future studies and legislation.

Reformatory steps will then emerge based on the report’s findings, according to Saghieh.

In his speech at the launch of the new initiative, Saghieh explained that through this project, Legal Agenda and its partners have identified three avenues for ending illegal interference: media monitoring and research, social awareness and mobilization, and legislative and institutional reform.

The project aims to provoke the social pressure necessary to implement legal reform by effectively documenting the problem.

“In order to promote a feeling of citizenship, the connection between the judiciary and the ruling class must be dismantled,” Saghieh said.

The project also aims to found a center for judicial studies and policy, strengthen solidarity within the judiciary, and ensure that judges themselves are active participants in the reform process.

The group believes that once the judicial branch can present itself as an independent entity, citizens’ trust will be restored. Its authority is legally enshrined in the Lebanese Constitution, which stresses that judges must carry out their duties independently and not submit to outside influence.

“I look at the Constitution, and the law says that the judiciary issues its decisions in the name of the Lebanese people. Can we today say that the Lebanese are reconciled with their judiciary? I don’t think so,” said Sader, head of the Shura Council.

Sader said reconciliation can only be achieved when the judiciary’s decisions live up to the trust that citizens have placed in it, and said both religious and political authorities were guilty of trying to exert their influence in its affairs.

“Politicians are brutally interfering in the Lebanese judiciary and this is something that’s not acceptable.”

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