Lebanon News

Activists kick off campaign to reopen debate on war criminals

BEIRUT: A group of independent activists are launching a campaign “to prosecute Lebanese war criminals” and abolish the 1991 Amnesty Law, a move experts see as a “very important step” toward opening a debate on political impunity in Lebanon.

The campaign’s first move will be Sunday at 12:30 p.m. when activists will stage a sit-it in front of the Justice Palace. Aims are “keeping the cause alive” and “widening our support base to include the missing committees and victims’ families,” organizers explain.

The activists demand the abolition of the 1991 Amnesty Law, which they say contradicts international law, and the establishment of a special court to prosecute war criminals and freeze their accounts in order to fund future compensation for victims.

Activists based abroad have also scheduled a meeting with international legal experts for January to define a plan toward prosecuting “Lebanon’s war criminals” in European courts.

Organizers say they prefer to remain anonymous for now as they’ve received many threats via their Facebook page, which has 1,500 supporters.

The page features the “war criminals” including nearly all current heads of political parties in Lebanon.

“We know this doesn’t look realistic,” says Amer, a campaign organizer, but “this is a long-term project” to slowly raise awareness among people on the idea that “politically, one shouldn’t get away with everything.”

He adds that organizers don’t expect all “war criminals” jailed, but will advocate that they be “isolated from public life and give financial compensation to victims.”

He adds that the campaign targets all sects without exception.

For Nadim Houry, director of the Beirut office of Human Rights Watch, the question of whether the campaign is realistic is not the most important. What matters, he says, “is to reopen the debate on accountability.”

He argues that the attitude of “let’s forget all about the past and turn the page,” embodied by the Amnesty Law, has led to a “culture of impunity, deep distrust between communities and no serious efforts to heal the wound” of the Civil War.

He gives the example of May 2008 clashes after which no major figure was charged and argues that “the amnesty created an umbrella for immunity,” making it normal for political crimes not to be prosecuted.

While the case against amnesty is challenging, he doesn’t see it as hopeless. “Some amnesties are simply not acceptable on the basis of international law; that’s what happened in the case of [Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet,” Houry says.

In Lebanon, he says, “there are definitely crimes against humanity that were committed.”

He believes tackling such issues takes time. When the Amnesty Law was passed he says, “the society was very tired … lots of Lebanese just want to move on.”

“Sometimes younger generations are more suitable to start these debates,” he says.

“The debate is going to happen; there is no doubt about it … The sooner we start tackling these issues,” he says, “the sooner we will become a healthier society.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 06, 2011, on page 3.

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