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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Constitutionally, the President of Lebanon has a strong and influential position. The president appoints the Council of Ministers and designates one of them to be Prime Minister. The President also has the authority to promulgate laws passed by the National Assembly, to issue supplementary regulations to ensure the execution of laws and to negotiate and ratify treaties.

The unwritten National Pact of 1943 provided for a breakdown of government where the President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shi'a Muslim. Those religious groups most favored by the formula sought to preserve it, while those who perceived themselves to be disadvantaged sought to revise it on the basis of updated demographic data or to abolish it entirely. The struggle gave a strongly sectarian coloration to Lebanese politics and to the continuing civil strife in the country.

Under the national reconciliation agreement reached in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in October 1989, members of parliament agreed to alter the national pact to create a 50-50 Christian- Muslim balance in the parliament and reorder the powers of the different branches of government. The Taif agreement, the political reform aspects of which were signed into law in September 1990, further modified the constitution to permit greater power-sharing and put in writing many of the provisions of the National Pact.

Constitutional amendments embodying the political reforms stipulated in the Taif agreement became law in 1990. They included an expansion of the number of seats in parliament and the division of seats equally between Muslims and Christians and the transfer of some powers from the president to the prime minister and council of ministers.

Political power is allocated on an essentially confessional system, based on the 1932 census. Efforts to alter or abolish the confessional system of allocating power have been at the center of Lebanese politics for more than 30 years. A series of amendments has substantially altered the constitution of 1926. Among the more significant is Article 95, which provides that the confessional communities of Lebanon shall be equitably represented in public employment and in the composition of the cabinet but that such a measure is not to impair the general welfare of the state.

The National Assembly, only sporadically active since 1975, is elected by adult suffrage based on a system of proportional representation for the confessional groups of the country. Most deputies do not represent political parties as they are known in the West, nor do they form Western-style groups in the assembly. Political blocs are usually based on confessional and local interests or on personal allegiance rather than on political affinities.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Lebanese judicial system consists of the regular civilian courts; the Military Court, which tries cases involving military personnel and security-related issues; and the tribunals of the various religious affiliations, which adjudicate matters of personal status, including marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. Each of these court systems has three levels--courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and the Court of Cassation. Juries are not used in trials.

The Judicial Council is a permanent tribunal of five senior judges that adjudicates threats to national security. Upon the recommendation of the Minister of Justice, the Cabinet decides whether to try a case before this tribunal. Verdicts from this tribunal are irrevocable and may not be appealed. Defendants before the Judicial Council, have the same procedural rights as other defendants; however, there is no right to appeal in such cases. The testimony of a woman is equal to that of a man.

The Ministry of Justice appoints all other judges according to a formula based on the religious affiliation of the prospective judge.

The Lebanese Constitution also provides for a Constitutional Council to determine the constitutionality of newly adopted laws upon the request of 10 members of Parliament, and stipulates that judges shall be independent in the exercise of their duties; however, influential politicians as well as Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officers at times intervene to protect their supporters from prosecution.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

The Lebanese Government's overall human rights record was poor in 2001, and serious problems remain, although there were some improvements in a few areas. The right of citizens to change their government remains significantly restricted by the lack of complete government control over parts of the country, shortcomings in the electoral system, and Syrian influence. The 2000 parliamentary elections were flawed and suffered from Syrian government influence. Members of the security forces used excessive force and tortured and abused some detainees. Prison conditions remained poor. Government abuses also included the arbitrary arrest and detention of persons who were critical of government policies. During August army intelligence officers arrested more than 100 supporters of exiled General Michel 'Awn and the banned Lebanese Forces militia group. Lengthy pretrial detention and long delays in trials are problems, although a new Code of Criminal Procedure was enacted during the year in an attempt to address such issues. The courts are subject to political pressure. International observers have reported that the trials of former SLA personnel, which began in 2000 and continued during the year, were not free and fair. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights and continued surveillance of political activities during the year. The Government limited press freedom by continuing to harass, abuse, and detain journalists throughout the year, forcing other journalists to practice self-censorship. The Government continued to restrict radio and television broadcasting in a discriminatory manner. Journalists practice self-censorship. The Government continued to restrict freedom of assembly and imposed some limits on freedom of association. There are some restrictions on freedom of religion. The Government imposes some limits on freedom of movement. Violence and discrimination against women; abuse of children; discrimination against Palestinians; forced labor, including by children; child labor; and the mistreatment of foreign domestic servants are problems.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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