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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

International Aid to Lebanon's Security and Justice Sectors

Monday , 23 January 2023
Design: Mahmoud Younis

This study attempts to respond to a conspicuous trend: the increase in human rights and civil liberties violations perpetrated by Lebanese security and judicial institutions despite Western donor support to these institutions. Specifically, the study attempts to understand what accounts for the gap between Western donor assistance to these institutions, which prioritizes the respect for human rights and civil liberties, and the increase in violations by these criminal justice institutions. To get at this, the study has sought to answer the following overarching questions:


  • What are the ways in which international donors provide assistance to Lebanese security and judicial institutions?
  • What impact is this assistance having on human rights and civil liberties outcomes in the country?
  • What challenges come with providing support focused on advancing human rights and civil liberties outcomes in the country?


Answers to these questions can help the international community and Lebanese civil society and government actors understand the limitations to donor support and steps that can be taken to make donor aid more effective with regards to promoting and protecting human rights and civil liberties.

The study proposes the following main recommendations:


  • Donor assistance efforts need to take into account the public’s discontent with the political establishment and the latter’s use of justice and security institutions to go after legitimate opposition and critics. In other words, such assistance needs to respond to the changing context in which legitimate grievances from below are being suppressed through the legal instrumentalization and coercive force.
  • Assistance should aim to strengthen the institutional and legal framework supporting the promotion and protection of human rights and civil liberties. International donors should continue to support reform efforts aimed at strengthening the institutional and legal gaps that are exploited and utilized by political, security and judicial actors and which lead to human rights and civil liberties being violated.
  • Assistance projects should incorporate more focus on the implementation of knowledge learned and the implementation of current legislation. Capacity development projects should incorporate design features that allow and encourage the application of knowledge gained on human rights and related themes in the work of security and judicial actors and include indicators to track these actions. Assistance efforts should also focus on getting security and justice actors to implement existing legislation, something that can be incorporated into the design of capacity development projects. In short, there needs to be more to donor assistance projects than capacity development for security and justice actors through training workshops alone.
  • Donor assistance projects need to focus on security and justice actors who are most inclined to commit violations. The study highlights that security and justice assistance projects aimed at promoting human rights and civil liberties are not targeting some of the institutions that are most prone to committing violations. Though getting these entities to change their behavior would require other things to materialize, such as the removal of undue political influence, focusing on the institutions and actors with the greatest penchant to commit violations would at the very least instill in them a greater sense of professionalism and respect for their duties, which may sprout better outcomes in the near term.
  • International donors need to put more focus on addressing systemic factors that perpetuate human rights and civil liberties violations and utilize the tools at their disposal to overcome opposition to greater reform efforts among the political establishment. Lebanese security and judicial institutions are situated within a larger political system in which state institutions are beholden to the influence and control of the political and sectarian ruling establishment. Consequently, even if international donor assistance fills existing legal gaps, strengthens established human rights monitoring institutions, and designs better projects that target those most likely to commit violations, it is unlikely that systemic progress will be made on curtailing human rights abuses by security and justice actors given that the root cause of the violations – the political sectarian system itself – are not being addressed. To be sure, these efforts are still needed and can help generate momentum for more reform sustained reform, yet they should be coupled with international donor assistance that helps to unlock structural reforms that safeguard state institutions from the predatory influence of political leaders or at the minimum, efforts that work to overcome the challenge of the lack of political will for reform. Here, donors should ultimately leverage the tools they have at their disposal – aid conditionality, sanctions, withdrawal of funding, and increased funding – to push for greater reforms.
  • There needs to be increased transparency and easier access to information on donor assistance to Lebanese justice and security institutions. This study has highlighted the need to make donor assistance information more readily accessible to the public. While some information resides in the public domain, it was sometimes difficult to locate. Some publicly available information was also not comprehensive in nature, with funding totals not always given. Moreover, it was not readily clear how funding mechanism allocations translated into projects and activities on the ground. More comprehensive information in the public domain that is easy to locate can help civil society actors and the public in general understand where international donor support is going, how it is materializing and what impact it is having.
  • Enhanced donor coordination around security sector reform issues was identified as a need. One criticism of the international donor community is that coordination among donors and between donors and national partners around the issue of security sector reform is not up to the standard required to produce more effective programs and outcomes. Though coordination may be occurring on a very high level not apparent to national stakeholders or on a project level, it was not clear to national partners the rationale behind donor strategies when it comes to supporting and protecting human rights and civil liberties among criminal justice institutions. Helping the Lebanese government establish a public security sector reform strategy may help improve overall efforts, decrease duplication and overlap, and increase donor and partner cohesion on the issue. Such a strategy would also bring added transparency to donor and government reform efforts.

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