Lebanon’s parliament should repeal a penal code provision that allows rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victims, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. Parliament should also amend other provisions to adequately criminalize sexual assault and rape, including by spouses.
On December 7, 2016, members of the Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice announced an agreement to repeal article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which allows halting the prosecution or suspending the conviction of a person who has committed rape, kidnapping, or statutory rape if he marries the victim. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri expressed his support for the measure on Twitter. The proposed reform, once officially confirmed by the committee, will next go to the full Lebanese parliament for review.
“The current law allows for a second assault on a rape survivor’s rights in the name of ‘honor’ by trapping her in a marriage with her rapist,” said Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Protecting honor should be about ensuring that attackers are punished and promoting social attitudes that support survivors of sexual violence instead of stigmatizing them.”
The proposed repeal follows years of campaigning by Lebanese women’s rights organizations. Abaad, a local women’s rights group, campaigned in recent months for the repeal of article 522 with a viral video, billboards, events outside parliament, and an online petition with the hashtag #Undress522.
Parliament should also address the issue of marital rape. The parliamentary committee is still reviewing penal code articles 503-521, which address rape, acts of indecency, statutory rape, and kidnapping. Article 503 defines the crime of rape as “forced sexual intercourse [against someone] who is not his wife by violence or threat.”
The 2014 law on domestic violence makes threats or violence by a spouse to claim a “marital right to intercourse” a crime, but does not criminalize the non-consensual violation of physical integrity itself. The penalties for this are covered under articles 554-559, which provide for as little as a fine of 10,000-50,000 Lebanese pound (US$6.66-$33) or a maximum of six months in prison if the victim required 10 days maximum of rest to recover, compared with at least five years for rape under article 503.
In November 2015, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, during its review of Lebanon’s record under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, called on Lebanon to criminalize marital rape.