Article 522: Letting rapists off the hook in Lebanon
The Turkish government, in keeping with its established reputation as a shameless violator of human rights and decency, recently made unfavourable headlines yet again with what international media have termed a “child rape bill” that would have pardoned men convicted of statutory rape provided they marry their victims.
Whatever deterrent capabilities the - largely oxymoronic - Lebanese justice system might have commanded over aspiring rapists and other violators of female honour are effectively obliterated by article 522
Following protests in Turkey, the measure has been withdrawn but not eliminated. The BBC quotes a female Turkish parliamentarian as defending the bill on these grounds:
“It is about giving normality to young women who have been married underage due to cultural norms, other norms, and now find themselves with their children suffering because their husbands are in prison… One of the examples is when the woman is 15 and the man is 17 [when they marry].”
But while such cases can’t be written off as irrelevant, they certainly don’t justify the institutionalisation of impunity - particularly when a get-out-of-jail-free card is apparently already available in many cases of rape.
In July, The Independent reported that “thousands of rapists and abusers in Turkey avoid jail time by marrying their victims, officials from the country’s Supreme Court have warned".
Slightly south of the Republic of Turkey, meanwhile, Lebanon is hosting its own battle against a similar law. Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code states:
Seventy-three percent of Lebanese view the article as a reflection of superior societal concern for preserving 'the family’s honour' over addressing 'women’s suffering'
“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 decision shall be suspended against the person who was subject to it.”
The article goes on to provide for the resumption of prosecution in certain cases of divorce.
But the bottom line is this: whatever deterrent capabilities the - largely oxymoronic - Lebanese justice system might have commanded over aspiring rapists and other violators of female honour are effectively obliterated by article 522.
According to the Beirut-based NGO ABAAD, which is leading the current campaign to abolish the article, 60 percent of the Lebanese population supports repealing it while 73 percent “considers that article 522 increases pressure on women to marry their rapists".
ABAAD’s data also indicates that 73 percent of Lebanese view the article as a reflection of superior societal concern for preserving “the family’s honour” over addressing “women’s suffering".
One gigantic violation
It’s a curious arrangement, to say the very least - although “criminal” is perhaps a more appropriate term. In the ostensible interest of facilitating a preservation of “honour,” article 522 is itself one gigantic violation of that very same concept. As if rape weren’t violation enough.
The future of the article is currently under debate, with typical foot-dragging, by a Lebanese parliamentary committee. ABAAD’s Soulayma Mardam Bey told me that, while the organisation can’t make any predictions as to the eventual outcome, members of the committee “are being positively responsive towards our initiative".
This is no small feat, to be sure, in a country where parliamentary activity has in recent years been so infrequent as to enable certain parliamentarians to live abroad - and where other parliamentarians have found it necessary to blame women for being raped in certain circumstances.
Elie Marouni, a recent purveyor of this notion, happens to be a member of Lebanon’s Phalangist party, an outfit whose claims to fame include supplying assassins for the 1982 Israeli-backed massacre of Palestinian refugees at Sabra and Shatila, which also involved numerous incidents of rape. Perhaps those women were also to blame.
On a different note, it’s important to highlight a certain hypocritical Western tendency when article 522 and other rape-related topics are discussed: decrying the Arab/Muslim world’s alleged barbarism and mistreatment of women when that very same West regularly engages in its rampant violations of female dignity.
Iraqi women and girls raped by US soldiers come to mind, as do females in the Gaza Strip slaughtered by the US-backed Israeli military. And in today’s climate of perennial war, that’s obviously just the tip of the iceberg.
The French connection
Meanwhile, those who might denounce 522 as a mere product of Oriental sexism would do well to contemplate Mardam Bey’s email to me regarding the origins of the article:
“Lebanese laws are mainly inspired by French law and article 522 is not exception. Article 522 dates back to January 1943, during the last months of the French mandate, just before [Lebanese] independence.”
If only the Lebanese ruling class - so often united only in sectarian motivations to screw over the general population - could unite to dispose of a measure that comprehensively violates the rights of women
Speaking of France, recent revelations about the rape scene in Bernardo Bertolucci’s acclaimed film Last Tango in Paris would seem to underscore the fact that rape culture has long been alive and well in non-Arab/Muslim locales - as would the impending ascension to the American presidency of a man accused of extensive sexual harassment and with an impressive track record of total sexism.
Nor is victim-blaming in rape cases a phenomenon alien to the West, as sentient beings may have noticed.
Obviously, though, global misogyny is no excuse for Lebanon to maintain article 522 - the abolition of which would be a welcome change of pace in a Lebanese milieu of impunity that encompasses, among other categories, the crimes of political leaders and the crimes of people benefiting from connections to political leaders.
The state of Israel, too, has enjoyed considerable impunity in Lebanon, having never been taken to task internationally for its 22-year occupation and regular devastation of the country.
If only the Lebanese ruling class - so often united only in sectarian motivations to screw over the general population - could unite to dispose of a measure that comprehensively violates the rights of women.
- Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Activists from the Lebanese NGO Abaad (Dimensions), a resource centre for gender equality, dressed as brides and wearing injury patches hold a protest in downtown Beirut on 6 December 2016, against article 522 in the Lebanese penal code (AFP)