Lebanon: UN expert warns of ‘failed state’ amid widespread poverty

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The report follows a visit to Lebanon and an investigation into the root causes and impacts of the worst economic and financial crisis in the country’s history.

“Impunity, corruption and structural inequality have been baked into a venal political and economic system designed to frustrate those at the bottom, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Mr. De Schutter, an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“The political establishment knew about the impending cataclysm for years but did little to avert it. Well-connected individuals even moved their money out of the country, facilitated by a loophole that allowed capital to flow out of the country. Truth and accountability must be sought within the framework of human rights,” he added.

With legislative elections scheduled for May 15, the UN expert called on the next government to put accountability and transparency at the “heart and center of its actions”, starting with publicly disclosing its own finances and his conflicts of interest and demanding that Central Bank officials do the same.

The country considered a “failed state”

Lebanon’s economic crisis began in 2019, and today the country is considered “a failed state”, the UN expert said. He cited current estimates that place four out of five people in poverty. “Political ties to the banking system are pervasive, underscoring serious concerns about conflicts of interest in their management of the economy and people’s savings,” De Schutter said.

“There is no built-in accountability in the latest rescue package, essential to restore the lost confidence of the population and the financial sector. We are talking about the national wealth that belongs to the public in Lebanon and that has been squandered over decades of mismanagement and misplaced investments by the government and the Central Bank,” he added.

“The policies of the Central Bank, in particular, have led to a downward spiral of the currency, the devastation of the economy, the annihilation of lifelong savings and the plunge of the population into poverty. The conclusion of my report is that the Central Bank has caused the Lebanese state to be in flagrant violation of international human rights law,” he further said. “Political leaders are completely out of touch with reality, including the desperation they have created by destroying people’s lives. Lebanon is also one of the most unequal countries in the world, but the leaders seem at best to ignore this and at worst to feel comfortable with it”.

Olivier De Schutter said there was a serious lack of strong social protection mechanisms. “As it stands, it’s a system that protects the wealthy while leaving poor families to fend for themselves,” he said. “Public services, including electricity, education and health care, have been gutted, with a state heavily subsidizing the private provision of these services. More than a quarter of all public spending on education goes to the private sector, which exacerbates inequalities, does not lead to better education and leads to higher dropout rates among children from poor households”.

“More than half of families report that their child has had to skip meals, and hundreds of thousands of children are out of school,” he added. “If the situation does not improve immediately, a whole generation of children will be sacrificed.”

The UN expert criticized decades of underinvestment in the public health system and the government’s “shameful” partial removal of subsidies on essential drugs. “There is a severe shortage of medicines and the prices of chronic disease medicines have at least quadrupled, an almost guaranteed death sentence for those who need them most,” said the UN expert on poverty.

Poverty doubled between 2019 and 2021

Despite the lack of official poverty data – which the government does not collect systematically, in part due to the absence of a census since 1932 – estimates suggest that multidimensional poverty almost doubled between 2019 and 2021, affecting 82% of population last year.

The UN report reveals that Palestinian and Syrian refugees face dire living conditions in Lebanon, with 88% of them living in minimal survival conditions. Nearly half of Syrian families are food insecure. “The appalling plight of refugees is the direct result of the administrative and legal measures imposed by the state, which continues to marginalize them and blame them for its own failure to provide basic goods and services to the population, whether it is be it education, decent jobs, alcohol, water or electricity,” De Schutter said.

“If trust for a better future is to be restored, the government must strengthen the Central Inspectorate, free the National Anti-Corruption Commission from potential political interference, ensure independent oversight of Electricité du Liban, and entrench accountability and transparency in the recovery plan,” he added.

The UN expert called on the new government to commit to improving its human rights record in all areas by reducing inequalities, fighting corruption and impunity, building strong and resilient social protection, education and health systems, and placing public interests above private sector profits.

NOTE :

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what are called the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations human rights system, is the general name for the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that deal either with country-specific situations or thematic issues in all regions of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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