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Domestic violence law still not fully applied | News , Lebanon News | THE DAILY STARLebanon News
Apr. 03, 2015 | 12:27 AM
Domestic violence law still not fully applied
File- Women protest the lack of legislation against domestic violence in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Stringer)
Mazin Sidahmed| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Nearly one year since the passage of monumental legislation to criminalize domestic violence, activists are taking stock on just how much – or how little – has changed in Law No. 293’s inaugural year.
The initial passage of the law was mired by controversy because it was amended under pressure from different religious groups.
Regardless, civil society groups and activists still consider the law an achievement that resulted from years of lobbying for legislation on domestic violence.
But how has the legislation performed in its inaugural year?
While the law has been successfully used to protect victims of domestic violence, civil society groups argue that problems remain with implementing the legislation.
All involved parties, such as lawyers, judges and victims, are still confused about how to use the law, while many people are unaware of its existence, they say.
Furthermore, on many occasions personal status or family courts governed by religious authorities have undermined the civil courts.
Civil society groups have launched several initiatives to try and address these issues.
Women’s rights organization Kafa launched a new guide booklet Wednesday to aid judges and lawyers in passing judgements and utilizing the law.
The booklet, titled “The Challenges of Implementing Law No. 293,” features the results of discussions between legal officials on various loopholes and unaddressed issues within the law and how different judges have approached them. It also details past decisions taken on the law.
For instance, the booklet provides guidance on how to interpret the law’s definition of the punishments for domestic violence, when children should be considered eligible for protection and what documentation is required to pass a decision.
It also highlights that judges can use international conventions that Lebanon has ratified which often offer more protection than the law.
The booklet was launched during a news conference at the Beirut Bar Association, where its head George Jreige, Judge Maya Kanaan, Judge Jad Maalouf, and the head of the Family Council at the Beirut Bar Association Iqbal Doughan spoke on their experiences with the law.
Judge Maalouf, of the urgent matters court, spoke about how judges can often get lost in the technicalities of the law and forget the human aspect. He stressed the importance of judges making defendants feel welcomed and ensuring that they trust the court.
Faten Abou Chacra, project coordinator at Kafa, told The Daily Star that the law was passed at an ideal time as Kafa had been providing sensitivity training to judges and security officials for several years prior on the issue of domestic violence.
These seem to have paid off as judges have been widely interpreting the law beyond its limited scope.
According to Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, as of January 2015, 60 protection orders were issued.
Judges have also been interpreting the law more broadly to include psychological violence.
But Begum stressed that there was still very little coordination between different government bodies on enforcing the law.
For instance, even when protection orders are issued, the police are not informed until a perpetrator violates the protection order.
“One year on since the law’s passage, we welcome some steps by the Lebanese authorities to protect women from domestic violence,” Begum told The Daily Star. “However, the authorities must take this opportunity now to fully implement the law as a matter of priority by ensuring there is a national strategy in place to enforce the law including setting up coordination between various government agencies.”
Brigitte Chelebian, lawyer and director of Justice Without Frontiers in Lebanon, said a lack of awareness was the main problem facing the law. “It is very needed to say that not all lawyers are aware of this law, not all women are aware of this law, not all judges are aware of this law,” she said.
During a program – implemented in a partnership between Justice Without Frontiers and NGO ActionAid – to educate communities around Lebanon about the law, Chelebian said they encountered people across the country that were completely unaware of the law’s existence.
She said she also receives calls from lawyers who do not know how to implement the law.
Another difficulty is the conflict between personal status courts governed by religious authorities and civil courts, Chelebian said.
Decisions passed in the civil courts on issues such as custody of children or alimony can be overturned in the personal status courts. Law No. 239 stipulates that personal status laws take precedent over decisions passed using the law.
Chelebian fears that if victims lose custody of their children or are not provided alimony payments, they may be encouraged to go back to their husbands.
As several members of the panel highlighted during their speech, the law is the first step in protecting victims of domestic violence but there is a long path ahead.