20 October 2008 - According to a newly released national report, only 60 cases involving victims of human trafficking are officially identified every year in Lebanon. These include cases that are either processed through the courts or through the national Complaints Office.
"There could be more, but we cannot responsibly estimate unknown numbers," says Cindy Smith from the University of Baltimore, who assisted with the report.
A major quandary in the identification of victims is the absence of any law in the Lebanese penal code concerning human trafficking. Of the 30 cases processed through the courts under existing crime legislation, such as kidnapping, offenders received a US$350 fine and a jail sentence of less than six months. Victims are also afraid to speak out, dreading retribution or stigmatization. Many simply do not know their rights. Silence perpetuates the cycle of exploitation.
Commissioned by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the study was initiated with a view to enhance existing criminal justice mechanisms against trafficking and to raise awareness.
The report is the result of research conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based organization, between 2005 and 2007, in cooperation with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF). It was launched with support from the country's Ministries of Justice and Interior, and the Human Rights Institute at the Bar Association.
Lebanon is a destination country for trafficked victims. Many come from Eastern Europe, including Moldova as confirmed by the research.
Guided by the report findings, UNODC Lebanon will now establish cooperation between the two countries to help address the issue by jointly developing materials that will assist victims, governments and NGO personnel. This includes strengthening the knowledge of the Lebanese migration authorities on the rights of trafficked victims from Moldova, and providing potential victims with useful information on support and protection services they can access upon their return to Moldova.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, UNODC is now working with the Ministry of Justice to introduce human trafficking as a crime in the country's penal code. "We expect to produce draft legislation by the end of the year before it is eventually submitted to Parliament," says Renee Sabbagh, UNODC National Coordinator in Beirut.
Lebanese Justice Minister, Ibrahim Najjar, says he will "commit to undertake all possible efforts to convince all officials to take part in this campaign and to confront trafficking, which is contrary to all the rules and principles of any contemporary and civilized society."
Read the report (pdf).