BEIRUT: Despite recent positive steps taken to prevent the use of torture by security forces, a new report this week threw doubt on the claims made in the state’s report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture in March. Earlier this year, Parliament submitted an initial report to the 10-member body of independent experts that monitors member state implementation of the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture.
While the document appeared to present concrete measures taken to implement the agreements of the convention, a report released Wednesday by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) disputes many of the findings. The “Shadow Report” also points out the timing of the March submission comes some eight years after Lebanon ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, despite it being required within a year of signing.
“All efforts are oriented toward talking about the implementation of laws against torture, but what are the facts?” Wadih al-Asmar, CLDH president, asked at the launch of the new report Wednesday.
According to statistics gathered by the CLDH, between 2009 and 2015, 60 percent of those arrested in Lebanon annually were subject to some form of torture or serious ill treatment during their detention.
The report points out that the term “torture” does not exist in Lebanese law and those articles of the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure that could prevent torture are not implemented. Article 401 of the Lebanese penal code criminalizes the use of violence to extract confessions, but does not condemn torture in all its forms. It also found that while some judges set aside confessions extracted under torture, others accept them despite the law.
Lebanon’s initial report earlier this year stressed that the judicial powers were “independent” and that it exercised its functions accordingly. However, citing a 2010 EU study, as well as its own findings, the CLDH disputed these claims and asserted that numerous judges were influenced by grounds other than the law.
According to the international organization Human Rights Watch, that extensively documents rights abuse cases in Lebanon, extracting confessions by means of torture remains common. “At times, these confessions are the only evidence against a convicted person,” Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Star.
Lebanon’s initial report stated that the director-general of General Security is committed to “guaranteeing the good treatment of detainees and the behavior toward them is with respect and decency.”
However, human rights organizations have documented gross violations perpetrated by General Security, the Internal Security Forces and the Directorate of Military Intelligence. “Every day they would take me to the interrogation room and would beat me all over my body with a stick and I would be electrocuted,” a woman – whose identity was withheld – arrested at the end of 2014 told the CLDH, according to the Shadow Report. “I would give them information so that they would stop torturing me, but they would not believe me anyways and always wanted more. Then they showed me a document and told me to sign it. I was not able to call anyone – either my husband or a lawyer – and no one visited me. I was horrified.”
A visit from a delegation of the Committee Against Torture in April 2013 found that among the 216 detainees interviewed, 99 reported being subject to torture by law enforcement. While the visit was mentioned in Lebanon’s initial report, it failed to include details on the outcome of the findings.
In October, Parliament took the significant step of approving a law to establish a National Human Rights Institute with the task of investigating torture and ill treatment.
While the news was welcomed by Human Rights Watch at the time as “a positive step,” the CLDH and other organizations have voiced concerns. “The institute will be independent on paper but we are concerned about whether it will really be autonomous,” Asmar said during the news conference.
Currently, those wishing to make formal reports concerning torture can file a complaint at ISF headquarters. However, fear of repercussions has been identified as a major factor discouraging victims from coming forward.
“The system needs more transparency and the authorities need to send out the message that the perpetrators of acts of torture will be prosecuted,” Fakih said.
Among the main problems highlighted by the CLDH was the lack of accountability for law enforcement. While Lebanon’s initial report cites the case of a policeman prosecuted for allegations of torture, the Shadow Report argues the man’s punishment amounted to a fine of $266 following the court appeal.
However, at the launch of the Shadow Report one of the authors of Lebanon’s March submission disputed the allegations.
“[The original document] is correct and it did not omit any detail,” Nazek Khatib, a representative of the Justice Ministry, declared. “Prosecuting the perpetrators of torture is not an easy task. It requires evidence that the victims are not always able to provide.”
Asmar, however, insisted that the absence of lawyers during interrogations and the extended arbitrary detention of suspects made it easy for the perpetrators to commit the crime.