BEIRUT: The ongoing practice of performing invasive tests to determine homosexuality on the orders of the Lebanese judiciary is in contravention of international standards on prisoners, Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East said during a debate on the subject Wednesday.
“It’s a violation of medical practice for medical staff to use their expertise to take part in interrogation of prisoners or detainees that could hurt the person’s health or mental state,” Nadim Houry said, citing the United Nations’ standards on treatment of prisoners.
“Any physical search of detainees should be restricted to security searches and the doctor should receive the consent of the detainee,” he added.
The debate, organized by non-profit research organization Legal Agenda, brought together two doctors who practice the tests, as well as Charbel Maydaa, the executive director of gay rights organization Helem, and Houry.
During the debate, doctors Hussein Shahrour and Sami Kawas discussed carrying out the tests, which are ordered by the public prosecutor in cases brought under Article 534, which outlaws “unnatural sexual activity,” including homosexual activity.
The tests involve invasive examinations on the genital area, without the consent of those who are being investigated, and usually take place in police stations, although an ISF source said the issue was one to do solely with the judiciary.
It is not clear how frequent the tests are administered, although Kawas said he performed such procedures four or five times a month.
Shahrour acknowledged that the tests continue despite the fact they cannot be considered scientifically accurate in determining homosexuality.
“The doctor can never be that firm in determining homosexual activities,” he said, as the evidence from such tests cannot be considered conclusive proof.
Maydaa rejected the idea that the procedure could be deemed a medical one, and said police often treat those undergoing the examinations poorly.
Although a judicial source told The Daily Star that the public prosecutor had the right to order such tests if people are performing homosexual activity in a public place, speakers at the event gave anecdotal evidence to suggest they were being ordered to do so without any such reasons.
Kawas said that in his experience police officers have been known to seek the tests on the grounds of a person’s appearance or mannerisms.
“Some police officers over-exaggerate such incidents,” he said.
Human rights lawyer Nizar Saghieh cited the case of three men who were arrested after police found them playing cards in their car which was parked near Walid Jumblatt’s residence in Beirut.
“They became suspicious of one of the guys who looked kind of ‘soft,’ so they sent them to Hobeish police station [where the examinations are carried out],” Saghieh said. “The police sent them the public prosecutor, who decided to call the doctors.” Since doctors could not be found until the next day, the men remained in custody overnight.
Saghieh said that when the doctor arrived, he attempted to extract a confession from the men, by saying they would receive a harsher punishment if the test later “proved” them to be in contravention of the law.
Saghieh agreed that doctors performing these cases were aware such methods were ultimately useless.
“The doctor [relied on his professional standing] to make the men confess, because he knows the means he would [otherwise] use are not proper,” he said. “The doctors are only being used to grant the police information.”