Families of Lebanese civil war missing to celebrate first major victory against the state

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The Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Missing hold a protest in Downtown Beirut on April 13, 2009 to demand the Lebanese government release information about their loved ones. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Eva Shoufi

Published Monday, December 15, 2014

On Tuesday, the Lebanese people will celebrate an important achievement attained by a civil movement in a long time. The Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Missing has proved that there is no room for despair if there is a quest for change. The struggle that started in 1982 resulted this year in an achievement that challenges the system.

Earlier this year, the families managed to seize a court order obligating the state to hand over the report on the disappeared and missing submitted by the official investigation committees. However, the most significant accomplishment, which concerns the Lebanese people as a whole, is that the continuous attempts by the system to instill despair have failed.

The families were more patient than the system expected and used the weapon of strategic litigation. Tomorrow's celebration comes as a clear declaration: We have won a round against the system, and all its representatives at the Beirut Bar Association (BBA).

On Tuesday, December 16, the Committee will present the investigations file to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which acted as its main and only supporter on the ground.

On March 4, 2014, the State Shura Council issued an order obligating the state to hand over the entire file related to the investigations. However, on May 6, 2014, the Cases Commission at the Justice Ministry sent an appeal to the Shura Council calling for a retrial, accompanied with a stay of execution request, based on the pretext that the implementation of the decision constitutes a "threat" to civil peace. But the families maintained their pressure on the state, which resulted in the government’s decision to “release” the investigations file on July 20, 2014.

There are many reasons for holding an official ceremony, the most notable is to embarrass the state in front of the foreign diplomats who will be in attendance tomorrow. The aim is also to pressure them to initiate serious action on the issue, as well as to have these countries bear witness to the case and monitor future steps.

When the war ended in 1990 and peace was declared, we thought that we would soon be relieved, that our loved ones snatched by the war would return, but we were disappointed. No one asked about us. Our children became victims of the war, and we became the victims of peace. It was an empty, superficial peace, a mere conciliation between war criminals. The people, unconsciously, remained trapped in the war. The families of the kidnapped and missing were the only ones to declare their rejection of abandoning their children, loved ones, and siblings. Sadness covered the faces of mothers who waited for long years. Some of them have waited for 40 years, awaiting a word of hope from afar. Naifeh Najjar, Odette Salem, Um Nabil Abul-Haija, and many others died without knowing anything about their children. They died so their teary eyes, which suddenly slid shut, would not declare their despair.

The men and women who led the struggle are asked: 32 years to achieve only this?

"We are like an ant burrowing through the rocks, inside the body of this system. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles they put in front of us, we persisted in our struggle and shall continue to do so," says Wadad Halawani, who heads the Families Committee.

Although this is a major achievement, the main and broader significance lies at the historical and national levels. Addressing this issue would pave the way for a real closure of the civil war file. This step is a necessary starting point for those who seek change and to establish a homeland.

After the war, all issues took a sectarian dimension. But the question of the kidnapped was not marred by sectarianism due to the diverse backgrounds of both the kidnapped and kidnappers. Thus, this segment maintained its neutrality away from any political, religious, or social authority. The families did not "volunteer" to serve this cause; they were forced to act as the families of the kidnapped.

Halawani calls on "everyone to head to the Beirut Bar Association tomorrow and give us one hour of your time in return for the long hours the families spent in waiting. Come over to witness the first tangible achievement by the Families Committee against the system, and to reinforce the right to know and the just closure of the civil war file."

Halawani has high hopes for the celebration. "The more we are, the stronger we will be. Tomorrow, we will see how this issue will impact the Lebanese in the face of the officials."

*The Families of the Kidnapped and Missing will hand over the official inquiry report on the fate of their children to the International Committee of the Red Cross, under the auspices of the President of the Beirut Bar Association at 11am at the Lawyer's House in Beirut. (The public is invited to participate)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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