UN secret probe documents Lebanon’s use of ‘systematic torture’

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Lebanon's infamous Adlieh Detention Center, where detainees have been reportedly tortured and held in inhumane conditions. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Bassam Alkantar

Published Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) tried to convince the Lebanese authorities to publish the results of a secret investigation by a UN investigative committee about torture in Lebanon to no avail. CAT went ahead and decided to publish a summary of the investigation within its annual report. What did the summary include? And why did the Lebanese government oppose its publication?

In an expected move, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) published the results of a secret investigation in Lebanon that began in May 2012 and ended in November 2013. The investigation was conducted in accordance with article 20 of the Convention Against Torture. It included investigations conducted by a committee appointed by the UN that visited prisons and detention centers in Lebanon.

The committee concluded that torture was and is being practiced in a systematic manner in Lebanon, particularly during interrogations in order to extract confessions. The committee said that the Lebanese authorities prevented it from visiting a detention center in Saida that belongs to the Intelligence Directorate in the Lebanese army and a detention center in Tripoli that belongs to the Information Division of the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The results presented were based on information that the investigation committee received during its visit to Lebanon, which took place between April 8 and 18, 2013. The committee also studied information presented by the authorities before and after the visit and information provided by human rights non-governmental organizations. Most of the allegations included in the investigation were collected during direct meetings with witnesses or individuals who reported being personally subjected to torture or ill treatment.

The UN conducted an in-depth assessment of the conclusions and findings it reached, which are based on what the delegation saw during its visit to Lebanon. The investigative committee concluded that torture is a widespread practice in Lebanon used by the armed forces and agencies in charge of law enforcement for investigation purposes to ensure the use of confessions in criminal proceedings and sometimes to punish individuals for acts they are believed to have committed. The evidence, which was collected from different parts of Lebanon during the investigation, indicated the existence of a clear pattern of widespread torture and ill treatment of suspects while in custody. This includes individuals held for crimes that have to do with state security and other serious crimes, in addition to foreigners, especially Syrians and Palestinians and people detained in the context of civil security, and particularly low-income people held for committing petty crimes.

During its visit to Lebanon, the UN investigative committee received a large number of identical and credible allegations about torture and ill treatment, old and new. It collected strong forensic evidence that confirm the testimonies of the alleged victims. Among the 216 detainees interviewed by the delegation, 99 reported being subjected to torture by law enforcement personnel, especially members of the ISF and the Directorate of Military Intelligence. The reported incidents of torture and ill treatment took place during the arrest and the first phase of detention, especially during the interrogation sessions. Many of the detainees interviewed by the delegation assumed that verbal and physical violence was a normal procedure in dealing with detainees. Many people, especially those who were in solitary confinement, claimed that they were tortured on several occasions, at different detention centers and at the hands of members of different security agencies. The committee pointed out that it received allegations about illegal arrests and torture by militias including ones associated with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement before handing the victims over to Lebanese security agencies.

The committee said that there is brutality in the torture methods used in detention centers. There are unusual tools and even special equipment designed especially for torture. Besides, the serious injuries observed on the bodies of victims during medical examinations suggest the widespread practice of torture and the impunity of the perpetrators.

The committee expressed harsh criticism of the Lebanese justice system where related criminal cases are not incorporated together, lawyers do not attend, especially during interrogations, and investigative judges often behave unprofessionally. There are cases of unjustified delay between the first hearing and what follows. It is often difficult to bring the detainees before a judge because of inadequate means of transportation. There is also no coordination between judicial authorities, the police and military authorities.

The report criticized the lack of independent and effective mechanisms in Lebanon for filing complaints that make it possible to receive allegations of torture. It also criticized the courts’ failure to investigate allegations of using torture to extract evidence and the lack of automatic investigations. The report pointed out that the conditions of detention at the administrative detention center for foreigners, which belongs to the Directorate of General Security, raise serious concerns. Not only can they be described as cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions, they can actually be seen as acts of torture in some cases.

The UN committee issued a set of recommendations to the Lebanese government. These recommendations include establishing a national institution for human rights, establishing an independent and effective mechanism to file and investigate complaints, restoring full state authority in all prisons, especially building B in the Roumieh Prison, doubling efforts to implement the process of transferring the prison system from the authority of the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities to the Justice Ministry and allowing non-governmental organizations to monitor prisons and enable them to make periodic visits.

In response to the information presented in the report, the Lebanese government said that it was “utterly shocked” at the committee's conclusions. It also expressed “great surprise” at the logic the committee used to reach the conclusions presented in the report, claiming that they are based on statements and testimonies that were not subject to any meticulous scientific or legal investigation. The Lebanese government disagreed with the committee’s view that torture is practiced systematically in Lebanon and stressed its opposition to the opinion that the committee’s definition of systematic torture applies in the case of Lebanon.

Follow Bassan Kantar: http://about.me/bassam.kantar

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

i am doing my master in international affairs i am writing about the prison globally and specially lebanese prisons can you send me by mail any reports about prisons in lebanon thank you

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