Trial begins for Nahr al-Bared defendants amid human rights concerns

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A Palestinian woman hangs laundry at her home in front of destroyed buildings in the devastated Nahr al-Bared Reugee camp in north Lebanon, 07 January 2008. (AFP - Ramzi Haidar)

By: Chloé Benoist

Published Friday, September 27, 2013

The trial of scores of Palestinians accused of being involved in the Nahr al-Bared clashes of 2007 began on Friday, as human rights activists raised concerns about the conditions in which the judicial procedure would take place.

Around 90 men – who have been held in pretrial detention for more than five years – will be tried for their involvement in the months-long clashes between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, which destroyed large swathes of the biggest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon and displaced approximately 30,000 Palestinian refugees.

Hundreds of other Palestinians are awaiting trial in the case, held in indefinite detention in Lebanon’s Roumieh prison, where the judicial hearings will take place.

Switzerland-based NGO AlKarama expressed its concerns over the treatment of the defendants in prison and the neutrality of the court, in a statement released on Thursday.

“AlKarama calls on the Lebanese authorities to ensure that the defendants' right to a fair trial are fully respected, including their right to be tried by an impartial and competent instance,” the statement read.

One of the organization’s regional legal officers, who spoke to Al-Akhbar on condition of anonymity, said that they had received reports that people arrested in the wake of the Nahr al-Bared conflict were subjected to torture. Many of the prisoners were “gravely mistreated,” she stated, noting that they were subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions and worse by Lebanese military intelligence.

“Many defendants in the trial were tortured and allegedly forced to confess,” she said. Should the confessions obtained by torture be used as evidence, she warned, the trial’s fairness would be in jeopardy.

“Impunity is a very important issue in Lebanon regarding torture,” the legal officer said, explaining that the unclear legal consequences for officials using such methods led to “an atmosphere conducive to torture.”

The judicial council in charge of the case was referred to by the Council of Ministers, a fact that stands "in contradiction of the principles of separation of power, independence of the judiciary and equality before the law," according to Lebanon’s Universal Periodic Review by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2010.

As noted in AlKarama’s statement, the court’s decision cannot be appealed.

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