Revoking the Love Ban or the Enslavement Circular: the Backlash and the Success

2015-08-04    |   

Revoking the Love Ban or the Enslavement Circular: the Backlash and the Success

In early May 2015, The Legal Agenda learned that notaries were requesting employers (sponsors) of foreign workers to sign a pledge stating that the latter do not have any marital or intimate relationship with any other migrant residing in Lebanon. Under this new stipulation, the sponsor was obliged to inform the General Directorate of General Security (“General Security”) of any future act of marriage by a worker, so that the worker would be deported.[1] After contacting one of the notaries for more details on this matter, The Legal Agenda concluded that this emerging practice is based on Circular No. 1778, issued on October 4, 2014 by the Ministry of Justice at the request of the General Security. The circular pertains to the commitments employers must undertake in order to obtain residence for low-income foreign workers, or to transfer these workers’ names onto theirs. The circular particularly applies to migrant workers of categories 3 and 4 (low-wage male workers and migrant housemaids, respectively).[2]

In order to examine the extent to which this circular has been applied, The Legal Agenda contacted more than 35 notaries in different regions in Lebanon. It turned out that, with the exception of 3, everyone adhered to it; some did so out of conviction, but most considered it obligatory regardless of whether or not they approved of its content. The employer is obliged to sign the pledge statement in order to complete the residence papers and renew them. Failure to abide by the pledge could jeopardize those employers’ interests and complicate matters for them.[3] The Legal Agenda had expressed grave concern about the fact that the Ministry of Justice and later the public notaries both succumbed to the General Security’s demand without any reservation. The law prohibits them from approving any pledges, such as this one, that violate public order. The fact that they applied it for several months reveals, ironically, the degree to which those in the legal profession have transformed the law into a tool in the hands of the security apparatus, instead of having the law regulate their work.

Some public notaries explained that a number of employers have expressed grave concerns about how they are expected to take on the role of monitoring the privacy of their workers. What are the possible effects of such a circular, in terms of the relations between employers and workers of these two categories, given that The Legal Agenda has yet to study the actual effects on work relations?

The first thing that comes to mind is that this circular limits the personal freedom of these workers. To obtain a residence or to be transferred from one “sponsor” to another, they must not have any marital or emotional relationship. Any such relationship shall eliminate their chances of staying in Lebanon and lead to immediate deportation. Accordingly, the General Security directive in effect might prevent the establishment of any procreational relations, in an attempt to reduce the number of foreigners residing in Lebanon, hence stripping them of their fundamental rights. According to another circular[4] issued in 2014, workers of categories 3 and 4 may not bring their families to Lebanon or obtain residency for their children born in Lebanon. Under the new circular, it would be no longer possible for them to establish intimate relationships in this country, no matter how long they have been residing here. The majority of media outlets has focused on this aspect, arguing that this rule deprives migrant workers of love;[5] some [media] even described it as the “love ban circular”.[6]

There are further implications. Giving the employer (the sponsor) the right to monitor their workers’ privacy practically means giving them a new prerogative: The employer will not only be the boss, tying their workers’ residence in Lebanon to a valid work contract (sponsorship system), but they will also control their workers’ privacy, acting as “Big Brother”. More significantly, employers will become more inclined to use their authority to prohibit workers from establishing private relations, especially in cases where they have paid large sums of money to bring the workers to Lebanon. This shall make many of them reconsider granting weekends off to their migrant housemaids, or even allowing them to leave the house, further posing a threat to social development which is already limited in this area. Accordingly, these workers’ existence in Lebanon is only restricted to their relationship with their employer, making exploitation and forced labor easier than ever. For that reason, The Legal Agenda has suggested calling the decision: “the circular of enslavement”.

We should point out that the new power given to employers is not free of charge. As is the case concerning the range of privileges associated with the sponsorship statement, the new power pertains to certain tasks assigned to the employer in order to reinforce the General Security’s capacity in monitoring foreigners in Lebanon. The employer is assigned the task of monitoring the privacy of these workers, and informing the General Security about any developments concerning them [workers]. After all, how else would the General Security monitor foreign workers in Lebanon without the help of their employers?

Based on these concerns, The Legal Agenda publicly raised the matter in media outlets and sought practical measures to dissuade the concerned authorities. It took the initiative to communicate with a number of human rights and union organizations to mobilize in this direction. These bodies have sought to engage the newly established Domestic Workers Union as a recognition of its syndicalist role, despite the Ministry of Labor’s refusal to recognize it.[7] On May 13, 2015, a letter was presented on behalf of seven civil society organizations, including the above-mentioned union, to the Ministry of Justice to demand the abolition of the circular.[8] The letter was based on several arguments, most prominently the one stating that the circular contradicts Lebanon's commitment to the prohibition of slavery and enslavement, the prohibition of arbitrary interference in private life, the right to marry and to have a family, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the principles of the labor law, and the duty of the state to promote comprehensive and actual respect for human rights and freedoms. The civil society organizations also sent a letter to the Council of Public Notaries (a new council established under a law passed in April 2014) requesting that the Council announces they no longer adhere to this circular because it violates the public order, and because they want to safeguard the reputation of the notaries’ profession.

Amid impressive media support,[9] official reactions varied in their nature and degree; the General Security sought to defend the decision in a statement addressed to The Legal Agenda. Through this response, citizens were able to realize the General Security’s motives through the statements contained in the civil society organizations’ letter. According to the General Security, the circular is just “a precautionary measure that is not intended to prevent marriage or interfere in personal matters, but to realize sustainability of the family as an institution with a role in society, and to respect the residence requirements”. The letter also read that “the sponsorship system may not allow to have a family living under one roof”, and that the General Security is “studying each case separately in terms of making sure family and marriage relationship does not affect the applicable Labor Law and the residence system defined in the law which governs the work of the General Security”.[10] The Legal Agenda responded to the letter, maintaining that the General Security’s statement is a valuable acknowledgment that the sponsorship system, established and carefully designed by the General Security, contradicts the fundamental rights of workers and labor, and practically leads to their subjugation. The Legal Agenda also expressed its amazement at how a security apparatus appoints itself as a specialist in family care and its sustainability.

In contrast to the General Security’s statement, the Ministry of Justice sent the Ministry of Interior a copy of the request for revocation submitted thereto by civil society organizations, asking the ministry of interior for advice on the matter, taking into account the question of human rights. After approximately a month of receiving the request, the Council of Public Notaries sent letters to the Ministries of Justice and Interior respectively backing the revocation of the circular. The letters read: “We refuse to have such violations written down in our records and in Lebanon’s history. We consider these kinds of violations a stigma against Lebanon, which has made an effective contribution to the establishment of the Human Rights Charter.”[11] The Council of Public Notaries’ President Raymond Bashour Saqr also announced that the Council had taken the initiative to communicate with the General Security to get them to back down on the decision, as it is not legitimate.[12]

As a result of these interactions, and after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Interior stating their approval of the abolition, the Ministry of Justice issued a new memo on July 3, 2015, instructing the revocation of the “love ban” or “enslavement circular”, marking a happy ending to this case.

By doing so, civil society organizations have achieved four victories.

Forced the concerned authorities to back down on the decision which violated the rights of foreign workers in Lebanon, opening the door for further victories in this area, particularly in the field of recognition of the workers’ personal freedoms;

Mobilized members of the legal profession and the public notaries to defend human rights; Instead of merely being implementers of a circular that clearly violated the public order, they came together and lobbied, participating effectively in the move toward its abolition. This victory has special significance for the recently-founded Council of Public Notaries, which was established only a year ago. This imparts a sense of concern for legal rights to the center that goes beyond the sectoral interests of notaries. The Council of Public Notaries’ letter to the Ministries of Interior and Justice clearly proves this point;

Monitored the work of the security apparatus, making it abide by the principles of human rights. This is a huge step in itself, in light of the large numbers of circulars and instructions issued by the General Security; and

Enhanced the legitimacy of the Domestic Workers Union which has recorded a victory in defending the rights of its members.

This article is an edited translation from Arabic.


[1] See: Sarah Wansa’s, “I Pledge That My Worker Has No Marital or Intimate Relationship of Any Kind in Lebanon”, The Legal Agenda, Issue No. 28, May 2015.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See: Ibrahim Sharara and Rania Hamza’s, “The Legal Agenda Asks Notaries: What Do You Think About the Circular of Enslavement?”, The Legal Agenda, Issue No. 29, June 2015.

[4] A Statement by nine civil society organizations issued in September 3, 2014, titled: “Deportation of Migrant Workers’ Children”.

[5] See: Eva Choufi’s, “The Ministry of Justice Revokes Love Ban Decision”, al-Akhbar, July 7, 2015; also, see: Anne-Marie el Hajj’s, “Les Employées de Maison Étrangères Désormais Libres D'aimer”, L'Orient Le Jour, July 8, 2015; and, Ghinwa Obeid’s, “Foreign Worker Marriage Ban Gets Revoked”, The Daily Star, July 9, 2015.

[6] See note 5 above, idem.

[7] See HRW’s report: “Lebanon: Recognize Domestic Workers Union”, March 10, 2015.

[8] “The Circular of Enslavement at the Ministry of Justice: Human Rights Activists Under Security”, The Legal Agenda, Issue No. 29, June 2015. Edited by legal expert Myriam Mehanna.

[9] See notes above, idem. Some French newspapers also wrote about the subject; also, see: Laure Stephan’s, “Au Liban, Les Domestiques Étrangères ont Interdiction D'aimer”, Le Monde, June 10, 2015.

[10] A response from the General Security and The Legal Agenda’s “General Security Decides Who May and May not Love, to Safeguard the Family?”, The Legal Agenda, Issue No. 29, June 2015.

[11] See: “The Council of Public Notaries Rejects the Circular of Enslavement: No to a Stigma on Lebanon’s Records”, The Legal Agenda, June 12, 2015.
[12] See: Ibrahim Sharara’s, “What Does The Council of Notaries Say About the Circular of Enslavement Abolition in Lebanon”, July 9, 2015.

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