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A mediterranean country, Lebanon borders Syria and Israel. Still recovering from a brutal civil war and periods of military occupation by both Israel and Syria, Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy with a complex confessional system, whereby quotas of seats in the parliament and key positions in the government are divided more or less proportionally between the officially recognised religious groups. While Lebanon is less overtly repressive than some of its regional neighbours, major issues remain with attacks on journalists and campaigners, the abuse of migrant workers and the situation of the country’s more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees, the vast majority of whom are denied their rights to access government services, own property or travel outside of designated areas.
Lebanon is located in the western part of Asia, bordered by Syria to the east and north, Israel to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Lebanon has a population of around four million people, an area of 10,452 sq. km, and hence counts among the smallest countries in the region. Beirut, the capital city, contains approximately half of the Lebanese population and is located towards the middle of Lebanon’s 220 km coast.
Population and language
Lebanon was under French mandate until independence in 1943. Its population is a mixture of Christian sects, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Druze and others, having been a refuge for the region's persecuted minorities.
History and politics
From 1975 until the early 1990s Lebanon suffered a bloody civil war in which regional powers used the country as a battlefield for their own conflicts. Syrian troops moved in shortly after the war started. Israeli troops invaded in 1978 and again in 1982 before pulling back to a self-declared "security zone" in the south from which they withdrew in May 2000.
Syria exerts considerable political clout in Lebanon, though it withdrew its troops in 2005, ending a 29-year military presence. This withdrawal followed the assassination in Beirut of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Massive pro- and anti-Syria rallies were held in Beirut, triggering the government's downfall and the Syrian pull-out. The Hariri case appeared to have taken a major step forward on 1 March 2009 when an international court focussing on the killing opened in the Hague.
Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy with a liberal economy that promotes and guarantees personal freedom. Government structures are divided between the various groups.
With its high literacy rate and traditional mercantile culture, Lebanon has traditionally been an important commercial hub for the Middle East.
Media and civil society
Press freedom body Reporters Without Borders has reported that the media have more freedom in Lebanon than in any other Arab country, but nevertheless face "political and judicial machinations". The country's broadcasting scene is well-developed, lively and diverse, reflecting the country's pluralism and divisions.
Criticism of officials and policies is carried daily in dozens of newspapers and hundreds of periodicals. While there are no censorship laws, restrictions in press laws forbid the media from defaming the president or other heads of state and from inciting sectarian strife.
Human rights and people's rights
Human rights defenders working in Lebanon have been subjected to detention, prosecution, harassment, threats and travel restrictions. The Lebanese constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press and a substantial number of human rights organisations operate within the country. However, the government has also been selective in deciding which human rights organisations to officially recognise. Lebanon’s fractured political landscape and the legacy of the civil war have created a tense atmosphere in which human rights defenders work. Under particular scrutiny are individuals who work with the country’s refugee population. They face harassment in the form of travel restrictions, repeated summons and interrogations. They are often charged with defaming Lebanon’s reputation; creating civil disorder, and even treason.
Around 455,000 refugees are registered with the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps. Palestine refugees in Lebanon do not enjoy several basic human rights, for example, they do not have the right to work in as many as 20 professions.
Lebanon ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in May 1991 but hasn't ratified any of the three optional protocols.
- Frontline Defenders, "Lebanon Overview"
- Hauser Global Law School Programme, Firas El Samad, "The Lebanese Legal System and Research"
- The World Bank, "UN Data: Lebanon"
- BBC, "Lebanon Country Profile" 20 May 2012
- UNRWA, "Lebanon homepage"