Bertho Makso: Proud Lebanon comes to the aid of Syrian and Iraqi refugees
- 14 December 2015
During a visit to the Lebanon in June 2015 John Edmundson and Guilhem Papelard, President and Manager Development met Proud Lebanon, a recently created human rights organisation defending the LGBTI community. The aim of this organisation is to reinforce the Lebanese LGBTI community and to help Syrian and Lebanese LGBTI refugees fleeing conflicts.
Meeting with Bertho Makso , Director of Proud Lebanon.
AEDH: How does the Lebanon view the LGBTI community?
BM: The climate for LGBTI individuals is extremely difficult in the Lebanon. They are the victims of two sorts of discrimination. On the one hand society rejects them on religious and social grounds. Many of those who have contacted us have been rejected by their families and have no other support. Proud Lebanon then becomes their only resort.
On the other hand the law considers LGBTI individuals to be criminals. Article 534 of the Lebanese criminal code punishes all ‘unnatural’ sexual relationships. LGBTI individuals don’t dare to seek protection from the police if they are subjected to violence. In fact it is not uncommon for the authorities to pursue them simply because of their sexual identity.
AEDH: What was the context for Proud Lebanon’s creation?
B.M. A group of volunteers realised that the LGBTI community suffered from having no solution to its problems and got together in September 2013 to propose to help them. Proud Lebanon then became a charity whose principal objectives are to protect, emancipate and guarantee equality of treatment for the LGBTI community in the Lebanon. From the start Proud Lebanon has worked for the establishment of a strong and emancipated LGBTI community so that its members can get involved effectively in the democratic processes that affect their lives.
Proud Lebanon was officially registered as a charity on 4th April 2014. In May of the same year we set up a consultative committee with its members coming from such professions as the protection of human rights, journalism and the law. In Ju@ne 2015 a Board was also established both to supervise its regular activities and to fix its political guidelines.
AEDH: What have been the effects of the international situation, and in particular the war in Syria for the LGBTI community?
B.M. The war in our region has diverted attention away from the issues of social justice to concentrate on such basic issues as survival, and this has damaged the LGBTI cause. Furthermore the chaotic political context in the Lebanon has dashed our hope of new legislation that would deal with or abolish article 534.
Finally, LGBTI individuals have fled Syria and Iraq for safety in the Lebanon and sought the protection of the High Commission for Refugees (HCR) in the hope of being transferred to another host country. Proud Lebanon has helped many of these people. Their testimony points to a continuing risk in the Lebanon and they deplore the discrimination and the abuse here.
AEDH: How can Proud Lebanon help these people?
BM: Proud Lebanon’s main purpose is to support the LGBTI community so that it can become sufficiently strong and visible to fight for the respect of its fundamental rights, and take its rightful place in the social and legal changes both in the Lebanon and in the region.
Given the pressing needs of the LGBTI refugee from Syria and from Iraq Proud Lebanon has instigated six types of assistance:
- Help with subsistence
- Medical help
- Psychological support
- Legal advice
- Social support
- Professional training.
AEDH: What are you hoping for from the partnership with AEDH?
B.M. Quite simply it will help us fulfil our mission, particularly with regards to advocacy and lobbying. We are planning to work on a number of human rights projects, and AEDH’s support will enable us to have greater impact.