BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army must investigate raids on the residence of migrant workers Sunday during which dozens of men were beaten, Human Rights Watch said.
“We want an investigation into the incident and we want those responsible to be held to account,” Nadim Houry, the Human Rights Watch deputy director for Middle East and North Africa, told The Daily Star Tuesday.
The Lebanese Army entered at least two locations in Beirut’s Geitawi district Sunday night occupied by migrant workers, where they proceeded to restrain and beat the residents before leaving several hours later, according to the workers, local eyewitnesses and HRW.
Men at one of the residences told The Daily Star that Army personnel had arrived at around 9:30 p.m. and rounded up around 150 men, taking them into the corridor of the building and beating each one with sticks, as well as kicking, punching and slapping them.
“It was more like torture,” one man told The Daily Star.
“We were told not to speak. Everyone was beaten up. They said ‘anyone with a problem, don’t talk about it,’” he said.
Houry reported that he had spoken to one 43-year-old man who feared his rib had been broken, but who could not afford to go to a doctor.
A local resident said she was told to “close their door and let [the Army] do their job,” but that she could hear the sound of beatings from her apartment.
Another local resident said he saw both Army personnel and plain clothed officers at the location, and that he could see around 15 workers held with their hands tied behind their heads, and heard the sound of slapping and insults directed toward the men, which went on for around three hours.
The men, who are mostly Syrian but also Sudanese, were given no explanation when the soldiers arrived and were not interrogated. They were told not to speak, and not to look at the soldiers’ faces.
“While they were beating us they were saying we were doing unethical stuff with women,” one man said, but no arrests were made, he added.
“If this was about a specific incident, they would go for [that person], they wouldn’t go for 100 of us,” another added.
Houry said the incident had no resemblance to an official investigation.
“All of them were released, none were taken. Clearly these were not national security threats,” he said.
“They stormed the door and started beating them. It was almost like a hazing as opposed to an arrest or investigation,” Houry added.
An Army source denied the raids had occurred.
“We would have read about it in newspapers,” the source said. “The word assault is out of the question. We never assault people.”
Houry, who also spoke to men at a separate location in Geitawi, said similar incidents had occurred recently, one at a construction site near Ashrafieh, and another in the Burj Hammoud district, but that they had been “nothing like what happened on Sunday.”
“This is not the first time we have documented Lebanese security forces or Army being violent, but this is the first time we have seen it on this scale and in that way,” he said. “I am shocked and baffled by what happened. From all I know it strikes me as a purely xenophobic attack with no basis in law.”
But he added that “I don’t want to speculate [about the reason behind the raid.] I want to let the Army explain this illegal behavior.”
The men The Daily Star spoke to said they were afraid the Army might come back, and that several had left the residence out of fear. There were reports that local media had been told by police not to film.
The majority of local residents declined to speak about the incident, but those that did said they had had no problem with the workers. “We have a good relationship with these guys. Sometimes we argue about small stuff like water, but in general it’s good,” one resident said.
Houry added that the “the Army operates with a lot of impunity in Lebanon, but that must change.”
“We want this investigation to shed light on the incident,” he said, “and we hope that the code of silence is not going to be applied.”