Gebran Bassil: Racist Statements Enrich Hate Speech Against Refugees

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Bassil, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, a party of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, said on his Twitter account that “This land that borne prophets and saints, [we] will not be replaced in it neither by refugees, nor those displaced or corrupt.

Reactions and criticism from human rights organizations arose after this statement at a time of increasing suffering for refugees due to wars and displacement around the world, as well as incitement against refugees in Lebanon.

The latest statements were made by Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, which in accordance with international laws are considered racist and provocative statements against refugees in his country, which are just under 2 million people. Currently Lebanon hosts 1.5 million Syrian refugees, in addition to some 390,000 Palestinian refugees.

These statements are in utter contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1951 Geneva Convention, which provides protection, movement and work of refugees fleeing war.

According to Skyline International, Bassil’s statements are not the first of their kind to come in the context of incitement against refugees, but previously called for the deportation of refugees from Lebanon and forcing them to return to their country, and considered them in other comments a burden on his country.

Below are the most aggressive statements that enrich hate speech by Minister Bassil:

  • On February 5, 2019, Basil said during the Arab-European Ministerial Meeting in Brussels that “1.5 million Syrian refugees have exhausted Lebanon financially with losses of up to 40% of its national output, and are threatening its existence by shattering its social fabric“.
  • He said on March 22, 2019, during a conference with the US Secretary of State that “Lebanon will no longer tolerate refugees and they must be returned to their countries“.
  • On March 15, 2018, Bassil called on UNRWA to remove all Palestinian refugees from their records in the event of their absence from Lebanon  or if they obtain the nationality of another country, so as to ease its financial burden on the one hand, and to contribute to reduce the number of refugees in Lebanon on the other hand. This contradicts international laws on the protection of refugees, which Lebanon is a signatory on.
  • Bassil also bragged about his racism against the refugees over the past years, refusing to set up camps for Syrians. He said in October 2017: “We are racist in our Lebanese-ism, Eastern in our loyalty, Globalised in our reach, and whoever speaks about international law and human rights should go to other places where human rights are being abused“.
  • Every foreigner on our land against our will is an occupier wherever he comes from” he said on Twitter in October 2017.
  • During his visit to Australia in 2017, Bassil did not hesitate to say: “It is not fair to accept what happened with the Syrian refugees as what happened with the Palestinians, we can still work towards the return of the displaced people to their land safely with their dignity and to save Syria for them, as well as our Lebanon for us. Otherwise, every random camp for the displaced Syrians in Lebanon, whether organized or not, may turn over time into hundreds of thousands of  camps. The Lebanese will leave Lebanon with time … “.

This statement is clear evidence of the threat refugees face in Syria where extreme security and military measures are applied to them. Such events took place earlier, where refugee areas have been stormed and arrests were made, some leading to the death of those in custody in the last two years.

Statements by Bassil predating his position at the Foreign Ministry:

Going back to old statements made by Bassil before he becomes Minister, the following appears:

• In 2013, Gebran Bassil was the Minister of Energy and Water. He says: “When we say we do not want Syrian and Palestinian displaced people to take our place, it is something that must be dedicated by acts, not by words. With their presence, their work and their lives, they take the place of the Lebanese“.

There is no doubt that the racist discourse against refugees, which comes from the Lebanese officials — headed by Bassil, quite a few in the media as well as people on social media–, is reflected on the street. Lebanon has witnessed many cases of racism against Syrian refugees in particular. These vary from physical abuse to posting photos on social media mocking vulnerable people, in a flagrant violation of the most basic ethical and humanitarian rules, with zero consequences.

In face of the escalating hate speech in Lebanon, which is shared by senior officials in the government –such as the Foreign Minister–, SkyLine International is ringing the alarm and expresses its deep concern at the rise of hatred against refugees in Lebanon, especially with Bassil’s increasingly hostile statements as a foreign minister and as a top official in the ruling party of the country.

Skyline International condemns these statements as they violate international laws and treaties which prohibit all forms of discrimination, including Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR): “Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law” and Article 26 (ICCPR): “… the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status“.

The statements of Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil also contradict Article II of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1969.

They also violate the provisions of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to refugees and are contrary to the right to freedom of movement which is guaranteed by international law. This right gives individuals the right to choose their country of residence, to leave and return to any country of their choosing, and prohibits limitations on this right outside the scope of the law.

“Lebanon, which participated in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, must respect its obligations under this Convention and other conventions guaranteeing the rights of refugees,” Skyline notes. It stressed that refugees who had suffered the scourge of war must be treated appropriately, in compensation for the damage caused by the devastating events in their country.

Skyline also noted that Bassil’s repeated comments were a clear violation to ARTICLE 19’s “Camden Principles on Freedom of Expression and Equality”. These  were prepared by the organisation, which focuses on defense and promotion of freedom of expression, on the basis of discussions with high-level UN and other officials, civil society and academic experts in international human rights law on freedom of expression and equality issues at meetings held in London between 2008/2009. They define hate speech as “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” in accordance with Article 20(2) ICCPR.

Skyline called on media in Lebanon to stop inciting against refugees, to highlight the rights they are owed, and to give them more space to express themselves and the issues they face, as an integral part of the Lebanese workforce and wider society.

Skyline also called on the Lebanese authorities to halt hate speech issued by their officials, to adhere to the laws and treaties which they are signatories, by holding violators to account and holding up human rights, and lastly to work towards providing a better reality for the refugees who fled forcibly to Lebanon.

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