In a move that would be viewed as a victory for women's rights, Lebanon is looking into overturning an article that states rapists would not be prosecuted if they marry their targets of sexual assault.
The Administration and Justice Committee announced on December 7 that it is “moving towards abolishing Article 522”. The 70-year-old law speculates: “In the event a legal marriage is concluded between the person who committed [crimes including rape, kidnapping and statutory rape] and the victim, prosecution shall be stopped and in case a decision is rendered, the execution of such a decision shall be suspended against the person who was subject to it.”
The committee held another meeting on Wednesday to work out the details involved in canceling Article 522, as per a draft law presented by Lebanese Forces MP Elie Keyrouz.
Although rape in Lebanon in punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment, women in Lebanon often marry their rapists to avoid bringing “shame” to their families, a notion well rooted in Arab and Middle Eastern societies, said Lebanese lawyer Fadi Mohsen.
The family would decide, and even push, for the survivor to marry her rapist, if the rapist “accepted”, said Mohsen, describing how difficult it was to beg the criminal and ask for approval to a doomed marriage.
The abolishment comes after much campaigning and lobbying against the unjust provision.
In recent years, civil society was strengthened in Lebanon, along with human rights awareness, stated Mohsen. Several women's rights activists were outspoken against the law, shedding light on incidents that left the rape survivor or her family in dire conditions, he said. Politicians then followed.
ABAAD, a Beirut-based NGO that promotes gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa, has long campaigned against the article. Two days before the committee’s announcement, activists dressed up as beaten and wounded brides in white dresses, and rallied near the parliament. ABAAD had also organized a flash mob at the 14th annual Beirut Marathon on November 13, which denounced the law, and released a hard-hitting video mirroring the physical and psychological pain a survivor goes through as a result of Article 522.
Despite the good news, many other honor crimes are not punishable by law, Mohsen maintained, pointing to much needed legal reform in Lebanon and other countries in the region.
Article 522 is on a Human Rights Watch list of Lebanese provisions that require revision. The report was issued in August 2011, after the parliament annulled Article 562 of the Criminal Code, which mitigated the sentences of people who claimed they killed or injured their wife, daughter, or other relative to protect the family “honor”.
“Lebanon’s parliament should repeal all discriminatory provisions in the penal code and adopt strong laws against gender-based violence,” the report stated. “In addition to stringent laws, Lebanon should begin collecting statistics on gender-based violence, and encourage men and women to report abuse.”
KAFA (enough violence and extremism), another NGO in Lebanon, has been campaigning against the status of articles related to child marriages, and calling for raising the age of legal marriage to 18 years.
Following the recent news, KAFA issued a statement, saying: “The [unanimous] agreement does not include all crimes and has retained pardon as a possibility vis-à-vis the amendment of certain items related to crimes that include sexual violence against minors and child marriages, as well as the ability to judge each case for itself.”