HRW Accuses Lebanese Authorities of “Disappearing” Two Syrians

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Published Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday accused Lebanese authorities of "disappearing" two Syrians five months ago, urging the country's police and judiciary to investigate the allegations and hold those responsible accountable.

"[Lebanon's] General Security apparatus, the country's security agency in charge of foreigners' entry and residency, has refused to disclose what happened to Osama Qaraqouz and Bassel Haidar despite repeated requests for information from their relatives and HRW," the rights group said in a statement.

"General Security's concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the two men could amount to the crime of enforced disappearance," HRW said.

According to HRW, the families of the men in question "fear that General Security deported them back to Syria and into the custody of the Syrian government."

Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East and North Africa director, called on the Lebanese authorities to "come clean" on the two men's situation and whereabouts.

"Refusing to disclose their whereabouts denies the men basic protections and makes the Lebanese authorities complicit in any harm that comes to them," Houry said.

Haidar's brother told HRW that the Lebanese army had "arrested Haidar in Ersal in April" and that "a military court sentenced him to four months in prison in Lebanon for 'selling weapons' and 'illegal entry.'"

Haidar was transferred from Lebanon’s infamous Roumieh Prison to a General Security facility after finishing his prison sentence on November 10, his brother told HRW, adding that his family had not heard from Haidar since.

Qaraqouz, meanwhile, was arrested by Lebanese army intelligence on March 12 and was referred to Roumieh after a military court accused him of "transporting weapons,” his wife told HRW.

Like Haidar, he was transferred to a General Security facility after finishing his sentence. His family has inquired about him at "every General Security department but in vain,” his wife told HRW.

The General Security apparatus denied any knowledge of Qaraqouz’s whereabouts and has not provided any information about his release from custody.

"Under Article 3 of the Convention against Torture, which Lebanon ratified in 2000, Lebanon cannot send any person — including convicted criminals — to countries where the person could face a real risk of torture," HRW said in its report.

"Syrians at risk of detention upon return in Syria are at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment," the watchdog asserted.

The rights group said it had sent a letter to the director-general of General Security on December 22 asking the agency for information about the two men's whereabouts.

HRW also "called General Security on January 9 and 13 to inquire further about their cases, but was told both times that the agency had no comment."

Lebanese authorities could not be reached for comment on the HRW report.

Lebanon’s population has grown by nearly 25 percent since the war in Syria began in 2011, with over 1.5 million Syrian refugees sheltered in a country with a population of 4 million, making it the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world.

Lebanon has this year, for the first time, required Syrians to apply for visas

The refugee influx has put huge pressure on the country's already scarce resources and poor infrastructure, education and health systems, and has also contributed to rising tensions in a nation vulnerable to security breaches and instability.

(Anadolu, Al-Akhbar)

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