Activists denounce Hrawi’s record
Daily Star (Lebanon 1/12/1998)

A sharp deterioration in press freedoms and repeated infringements on other human rights were the mark of former President Elias Hrawi’s term in office according to a number of human-rights groups in Lebanon.
Representatives from the Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights (FHHR), the Charles Malik Foundation and Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme (New Rights of Man), who held a joint news conference Monday announcing preparations for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Dec. 10, accused the government of violating the declaration on several fronts.
Published last week, the foundation’s annual report said that since the Taif accord in 1989, the government had prosecuted newspapers, passed a new media law to restrict radio and TV broadcasting and intimidated journalists and broadcasters into practicing self-censorship.
The report also said that the 1991 security agreement between Lebanon and Syria contained a provision that effectively prohibits the publication of any information deemed harmful to the security of either state, and claimed that rather than remaining independent many publications tended to reflect the opinions of their financial backers and their interests.
Habib Malik, head of the Charles Malik Foundation, said the Taif agreement had “put the individual at the beck and call of the state rather than put the state in the service of its people”. He expressed the hope that President Emile Lahoud’s mandate would encourage a more “respectful approach to the contents of the declaration.”
Referring to the contribution made by Lebanon when the declaration was drawn up half a century ago, Mr. Malik described the government’s application of it as “shameful.”
Wael Kheir, head of the FHHR, pointed out that the Taif agreement had created a direct link between media freedoms and the process of national reconciliation and gave the government an excuse to limit publication of articles it saw as threatening. “Real freedom cannot be confined within boundaries or used to serve specific interests,” he said.
Mr. Kheir added that by designating itself as the sole arbiter on education policy, the government is also violating the notion of educational freedom and the Unesco agreement ratified by Lebanon in 1978. The agreement stipulates that communities have the right to advance their own values through education without being subjected to government restrictions.
“The government can define a structure for the education system but must not interfere in specific and detailed areas,” he said. “A common history book should, for example, include different points of view of our past rather than merely those of the powers that be.”
Elie Abou Aoun, president of   Nouveaux Droits de l’Homme, said General Lahoud should show the same concern for Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons that he is giving to detainees in Israeli prisons
“We wish to remind him that there are Lebanese detainees in both Syria and Israel and they are all innocent and should be treated equally,” he argued.
Mr. Abou Aoun added that human rights committees had worked hard to mobilize international public opinion against human-rights violations in Lebanon and had succeeded in getting positive results.
He said that their pressure  had helped in the release of some 121 Lebanese prisoners from Syrian jails in February and encouraged the European Parliament to broach the issue in the European-Syrian partnership talks which began three years ago.
The three representatives announced that a conference marking the golden jubilee would be held Dec. 8-10 in which international speakers such as Michael Novak, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard University, and French professor and writer Pierre Bercis will take part.