Lebanese FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Lebanon

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 15 January 2017

Update: On October 31, 2016, after more than two years of deadlock while the presidency remained vacant, Lebanon’s parliament finally elected a president, Michel Aoun. Soon after assuming office, President Aoun appointed a new cabinet including four new ministries that work on issues affecting civil society: The State Ministry for Women’s Affairs, the State Ministry for Human Rights, the State Ministry for Refugee Affairs, and the State Ministry for Anti-Terrorism. It is hoped that President Aoun and his new government will advance issues and legislation in Lebanon that support civil society and civic freedoms, including a new law on non-religious foundations.

Introduction

In recent years, through improvements to implementation, Lebanon has established one of the most enabling legal and regulatory environments for civil society in the entire Arab world. The Lebanese NGO law is the 1909 Ottoman Law on Associations, which has remained in force for more than 100 years. Although the Ottoman Law is quite liberal, it notably diverges from the French Law on Associations from which it is derived by requiring that newly formed associations notify the government immediately after they are created. "Secret" or undeclared associations are prohibited and subject to immediate dissolution.

For many years Lebanese authorities misapplied the Law on Associations, for instance by often taking months – in some extreme cases, years – to deliver a receipt of notification. Without this receipt, associations could not take full advantage of the rights and privileges afforded to registered, legal entities. In 2006, the government issued a new Ministerial Circular with the aim of improving implementation of the Law on Associations, most importantly by requiring that receipts be given within 30 days of the date of notification. Nonetheless, civil society organizations continue to face delays in obtaining a notification receipt despite having fulfilled the filing requirements.

While the Law on Associations is perceived as very enabling, NGOs in Lebanon struggle for other reasons. Without a public fund for NGOs or dedicated government budget support, NGOs’ sources of funding are scarce, making them vulnerable to becoming dependent on private funders and utilized for political or sectarian purposes. Further, the influx of refugees from Syria has strained Lebanon’s resources and security, and challenged NGOs’ ability to play a constructive role. The government’s desire to regulate the response to the Syrian crisis has led to tighter restrictions on NGO activities, particularly economic support programs. The presidential vacancy and continually-extended mandate of Parliament, meanwhile, have stymied any legislative reform efforts, including those to improve the legal environment affecting NGOs.   

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations
Note: A number of laws govern religious endowments or foundations, but there is no law allowing for the creation of non-religious foundations. A separate law governs cooperatives.
Registration Body The Ministry of Interior is the main registration body. (The Ministry of Social Affairs approves registration for organizations working in the field of social affairs, while the Ministry of Youth and Sports does likewise for youth- and sports-related organizations.)
Approximate Number At least 8,500, including at least 200 local branches of international organizations, according to the Ministry of Interior.
Barriers to Entry Mandatory notification of association establishment.
Barriers to Activities "Secret" or undeclared associations are prohibited.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy n/a
Barriers to International Contact n/a
Barriers to Resources n/a
Barriers to Assembly Government has wide discretion to prevent assemblies; assemblies are banned on public roads; and excessive criminal penalties for "illegal" assemblies. 

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Key Indicators

Population 6,237,738 (2016 est.)
Capital Beirut
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 76.3 years
Female: 78.9 years (2016 est.)
Literacy Rate

Male: 96%
Female: 92% (2015 est.)

Religious Groups Muslim (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite, Nusayri): 54%, Christian (Maronite, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Coptic, Protestants): 40%; Other: 6% (2012 est.)
Ethnic Groups Arab: 95%, Armenian: 4%, Other: 1%
GDP Per Capita (PPP) $18,500 (2016 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2016.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 67 (2015) 1 – 187
World Bank Rule of Law Index 25 (2015) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 31 (2015) 100 – 0
Transparency International 123 (2015) 1 175
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 4 (2016)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index 40 (2016) 178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1972
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1972
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1971
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1997
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1991
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2007
Refugee Convention No --
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
Arab Charter on Human Rights Yes 2011

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Lebanese Constitution was adopted in 1926 and became the foundation for the Lebanese Republic when the country gained its independence in 1943. It was most recently amended in 1989 in an effort to end Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. Article 13 of the Constitution provides: "The freedom to express one's opinion orally or in writing, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, and the freedom of association shall be guaranteed within the limits established by law."

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national legislation includes the following:
1. Ottoman Law on Associations of 1909 [English] [عربي]
2. Ottoman Law on Cooperative Societies of 1909
3. Ministry of Interior and Municipalities Circular 10/AM/2006 of 2006 [English] [عربي]
4. Legislative Decree No. 87 on Public Utility Organizations of 1977

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

We are unaware of any other pending legislative/regulatory initiatives affecting NGOs. Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending legal or regulatory initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

According to the 1909 Law on Associations, an association is a group composed of more than one individual that combines their knowledge and effort in a permanent fashion to achieve a goal which does not include the distribution of profit.

Public Benefit Status

Lebanese associations may obtain a public benefit designation only by an act of Parliament. Because there is no formal procedure, no associations have been awarded public benefit status in a number of years. Public benefit status allows associations to receive public funds, bid for government contracts, and receive limited tax benefits.

Barriers to Entry

According to Lebanon's 1909 Law on Associations, formation of an association does not require prior approval from the government; rather, the Law requires that the government be notified when an association is formed (Article 2). The notification process entails submitting information including an association’s address, goal, two copies of the association's bylaws, and the identification cards of its founders to the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (Article 6). Per a Ministerial circular issued in 2006, the Ministry is required to issue notification receipts within 30 days of receiving the notification; this receipt serves as proof of an association’s legality. In practice, however, the Ministry does not always abide by the 30-day requirement, and the notification receipt may be delayed by several months or more. The receipt is important for an NGO’s functioning, as it is required in order for an NGO to carry out a number of essential activities such as opening a bank account or accessing international funding. Accordingly, a delay in the issuing of the notification receipt has detrimental impact on an NGO’s operations.

Barriers to Operational Activity

"Secret" or undeclared associations are prohibited and subject to dissolution by government authorities, according to Article 6 of the Law on Associations. However, the Lebanese government has not attempted to dissolve any association on these grounds since at least 2006.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are no legal barriers to speech or advocacy activity.  Associations are free to engage on issues of public policy concern. That said, NGOs have in the past received informal threats from powerful political actors or their proxies, in response to statements or acts that go against their political interests.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to international contact or communication.

Barriers to Resources

There are no legal barriers to resources, whether from domestic or foreign sources.

Barriers to Assembly

Article 13 of Lebanon’s Constitution provides that “the freedom of assembly…shall be guaranteed within the limits established by law.” The primary law governing the right to assemble is the Ottoman-era Public Assemblies Law of 1911, which was amended in 1931 and again in 1932. Subsequent government directives, such as Ministry of Interior Decree 4082 of 2000, as well as the Lebanese Penal Code also contain provisions relevant to the conduct of public assemblies.

In practice, however, these provisions are rarely used, and the government generally allows peaceful assemblies to proceed with few legal restrictions. Police use force to disperse crowds in some circumstances, such as during widespread anti-government protests in Beirut in September and October 2015. When those protests turned violent, security officials used what some considered to be excessive force; several dozen of the thousands of protestors were detained and charged with assault and vandalism under the Penal Code.

Vague Provisions
Article 3 of the Public Assemblies Law provides that the government may prevent a public assembly that would disturb public security or public order or public morality, and would go against the regular and normal course of public interests. Such broad language, especially with regard to the “regular and normal course of public interests” gives the government substantial discretion to prevent assemblies. In recent years, the government has banned a number of assemblies on grounds that they posed a threat to or would otherwise disturb public security.   

Advance Notification
The Public Assemblies Law does not require prior authorization before a public assembly may take place, and in fact explicitly provides in Article 1 that no permit is required. However, public assemblies are subject to a process of prior notification. Article 2 of the Law provides that assembly organizers must prepare a “statement paper” and submit it to the Ministry of Interior (if the assembly will be held in Beirut) or the local administrative authority (if to be held outside of Beirut). The statement paper must be submitted at least 48 hours before the date of the assembly, according to Article 4 of the Law. It must include, among other things, the exact time of the assembly, its location, intended purpose, and the names and signatures of at least two assembly participants who reside in the assembly area.  

While the law in Lebanon does not specifically provide for spontaneous assemblies, in practice the government generally protects and facilitates such assemblies as long as they are peaceful and participants are unarmed.

Time, Place, Manner Restrictions
The Public Assemblies Law provides certain restrictions on the location and timing of public assemblies. Per the Law, assemblies may not be held in public roads intended for traffic or pedestrian crossing, or within three kilometers from the presidential palace or the parliament. Public assemblies in open spaces may only take place between sunrise and sunset. These broad, blanket constraints on the permissible place and time for assemblies unduly restrict individuals’ ability to peacefully assemble according to international standards.  

Criminal Penalties
Under the Law on Public Assemblies, the organizers of an illegal assembly are subject to a prison sentence of between six months and three years, or a monetary fine, or both. In addition, Lebanon’s Penal Code criminalizes “riot demonstrations and assemblies,” which it defines as rallies or parades on a public road or venue, composed of 1) at least three persons, at least one of whom has a weapon and intent to commit a felony or misdemeanor; or 2) at least seven persons intending to demonstrate against a decision or action taken by a public authority; or 3) more than 20 persons suspected of disturbing the public peace. The Penal Code also criminalizes the act of inciting a riot assembly, with a potential penalty of between a month and a year’s imprisonment or monetary fine, or both.      

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Universal Periodic Review: Lebanon (2010)
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Lebanon
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department 2015 Report on Human Rights Practices: Lebanon
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports Lebanon and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Lebanon

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Human Rights Watch: Lebanon – Time for Action on Rights Abuses (January 2017)
Lebanon’s human rights situation deteriorated in 2016 amid longstanding human rights concerns, a waste management crisis, refugee concerns, and attacks on freedom of expression and dissent, Human Rights Watch said. The government’s failure to provide basic services, including timely and sanitary garbage removal, led to protests, with some protesters prosecuted before military tribunals. Criminal defamation laws were used against others who spoke out against the government. Detainees are subjected to ill-treatment and torture. Nonetheless, the establishment of a new government is an opportunity to turn the situation around by passing urgently needed legislative and policy reforms.

Beirut protest turns violent, politicians postpone talks (April 2015)
Security forces used tear gas and water cannons against thousands of protestors in Beirut, leading to dozens of injured. Public discontent has erupted in recent months over government corruption and poor infrastructure, particularly in trash disposal.

March NGO hosts a conference on online freedom of expression in Lebanon (October 2015)
The conference included civil society representatives, lawyers, activists, as well as security officials. It addressed Lebanon's laws concerning freedom of opinion and expression, and what participants described as an increasing crackdown on digital expression and activism in practice.

Beyond Reform and Development issues Civil Society Mapping Report (April 2015)
This study assesses the situation of the civil society sector in Lebanon, including its main areas of focus, sources of funding, challenges, and recommendations. This study comes under the framework of the Civil Society Facility – South program funded by the European Union, and was conducted in partnership with the EU and Trantsec.

Lebanese NGO awarded fifth place in Global Intercultural Innovation Award 2014 (October 2014)
Arcenciel, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Lebanon has been awarded fifth place among a competitive field of 11 finalists vying for the prestigious Intercultural Innovation Award (IIA) for 2014. The award was presented in Bali, Indonesia at a ceremony held on August 28th in conjunction with the 6th Global Forum amongst an audience that included heads of state, dignitaries and representatives of the 144 member countries comprising the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), as well as civil society groups and the media. Arcenciel was awarded for its novel Cirqu'enciel programme described as a "Circus School in the Service of Intercultural Dialogue". The programme includes a circus training school that helps integrate Lebanon's marginalized youth from differing cultural backgrounds to gain a foothold into society by encouraging them to train and perform in different circus acts.

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon protest against UNRWA
(September 2013)
Palestinians in Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon protested against the UN agency for Palestinian refugees two days in a row. Political factions, commitees and organizations in the camp are on an open strike against "oppressive" procedures implemented by UNRWA, local leaders said. Palestinians in the camp say UNRWA implemented a new policy on Sept. 1 which ended emergency healthcare for refugees, affecting people with chronic illnesses who will no longer be eligible for free treatment.

Major new institute on civil society and citizenship in Arab region to be established at American University of Beirut (November 2012)
The American University of Beirut (AUB) and the UK-based Asfari Foundation are creating a major new institute at AUB that will focus on civil society and citizenship in the Arab world. It will be the first of its kind in the region.

Civil society leaders call for dialogue (November 2012)
Prominent civil society leaders gathered to throw their support behind President Michel Suleiman’s call for National Dialogue and to call for the implementation of the Baabda Statement and Taif Accord. “Civil society stands behind the president in calling all parties to implement the Baabda Statement, issued during the Dialogue Session on June 11, 2012.” the group, Civil Society’s Dialogue Table, said in a statement at the Press Federation.

Employees at the Casino of Lebanon protest (November 2012)
Employees working in the Casino of Lebanon protest defending their right to receive long term contracts.

Security Forces harass protestors sexually (October 2012)
Security forces are performing sexual verbal and physical violence against protestors.

Students protest against increased tuition fees (October 2012)
Students of the Lebanese University protest against trebling the tuition fees and assure that they will not pay their fees if the raise remains effective.

Protestors are beaten and insulted (September 2012)
Few young people who gathered to demand the adoption of civil marriage were exposed to attacks by the police.

Workers on Strike (July 2012)
Day workers at EDL are protesting and are on hunger strike for the third day asking for their demands to be heard.

Public Sector Employees and Educational Bodies on Strike (July 2012)
Upon the invitation of the trade union coordinating body, public sector employees and educational bodies protest defending their rights.

Labor laws in Lebanon heat up on heels of ILO signing (July 2012)
Despite government ministers’ assertions that civil servants were wrong to engage in protests, the recent signing of the International Labor Organization convention by the labor minister guarantees the “Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.” A source close to Labor Minister Salim Jreissati said that international conventions supersede local laws, and that the Cabinet had committed itself to the convention after the minister signed it. The source noted that local laws contradicting this convention should be amended.

NGO works to teach armed groups about humanitarian law (June 2012)
Although many armed groups are initially reluctant to work with Geneva Call, an independent organization dedicated to engaging non-state actors about international humanitarian law, the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon actually approached the NGO themselves. “They asked us to help in ... disseminating among their cadres and among the security forces in the camp, humanitarian standards,” Armin Kohli, Geneva Calls’ program officer for the Middle East, told The Daily Star in an interview Monday.

Stopping the Strike of Workers (June 2012)
The head of the General Federation of Trade Unions warned the Lebanese government that inviting security forces to stop the strike of electricity workers is a violation of public freedoms.

NGOs call for approval of electoral law and reject postponing elections (May 2012)
A group of NGOs called on the government to approve a new electoral law before June and rejected attempts to postpone next year's parliamentary elections. The Civil Campaign for Electoral Reforms, a group of about 40 domestic NGOs, held a news conference at the UNESCO Palace to review various proposals for a new election law, particularly a draft law based on a system of proportional representation and the right of Lebanese in the Diaspora to vote. The group said that "although the parliamentary polls are 13 months away, there is only one month left from the deadline set by the government to speed up measures to adopt an electoral law at least one year ahead of the election date in 2013" and that "postponement of the elections is unacceptable because it constituted a violation of the most basic principles of democracy which calls for a rotation of power."

Teachers on Strike (April 2012)
The Association of Secondary School Teachers decided to strike and protest during April and May if their demands are not met.

Bakeries impose their conditions on the government (April 2012)
Bakeries stop their strike after being informed that their demands will be fulfilled as the government will pay 70 thousand LP for each ton of flour they use in the production of bread.

Restrictions on freedom of expression in the new Law on Information Technology (March 2012)
The new law places many restrictions which violate the right to freedom of expression. Social Media Exchange Organization actively encourages the public to form pressure against the new law.

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The aforementioned information was collected by Beyond Reform & Development in Beirut, Lebanon.