Lebanon News

Commission will hurt chances of bringing detained home

The relatives of the missing gathered to call attention to the issue in Downtown Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Plans to establish an Independent National Commission to investigate the Lebanese detained in Syria as well as the thousands who went missing during the Civil War will allow the Syrian regime to shirk its responsibility, families of the detained said Wednesday.

“Merging the cause of the families of the Lebanese detained in Syria with the ones who went missing during the Civil War will result in merging 600 detained Lebanese in Syria with some 17,000 kidnapped and missing Lebanese of the Civil War,” said a statement from the committee of the families of the detained Lebanese in Syria.

“This would only serve the interests of the Syrian regime, which is trying to mix these two cases together to rid itself from any moral, legal and national accountability,” the statement added.

Roughly 17,000 Lebanese went missing during Lebanon’s devastating 15-year Civil War and successive governments have faced pressure from the families of the missing and civil society groups to establish a national independent commission to investigate the fate of the missing.

Earlier this year, Lebanese Yaacoub Shamoun was freed from Syrian prisons after spending 27 years there. Shamoun’s release boosted the morale of the families who have also been awaiting news of their relatives’ fate.

Meanwhile, around 600 Lebanese are being held in Syrian prisons and eye-witness accounts and documents have indicated that many are still alive and in Syria, say the families of the detained Lebanese.

In August, Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi sent a draft decree to the government to establish an Independent National Commission tasked with investigating the fate of Lebanese missing persons whether in Syria or elsewhere. The Cabinet has not yet discussed the proposal.

But relatives of the detained say the plan will backfire and allow the Syrian regime to deflect questions from Lebanon. The families believe grouping the Lebanese detained in Syria together with the ones who went missing during the Civil War will weaken their cause and their chance of bringing their relatives home safely.

The statement was signed by Fatima Abdullah whose brother Ali is being held in Syria, and Elie Roumieh, brother of Beshara Roumieh, who has been in Syrian prisons for almost three decades. Their families believe that he is still alive and that he has been transferred from one Syrian prison to another amid the ongoing unrest in Syria.

According to the statement made by the families of the detained in Syria, Qortbawi’s proposal “wrongly describes the Lebanese detained in Syria as Lebanese forcefully missing.”

“Using ‘forcefully missing’ does not reflect the reality because the names of the Lebanese and where they are detained in Syria are very clear and they are proven by the documents their families have,” the statement added.

Abdullahalso said that she was not asked her opinion in the course of developing the draft decree on the commission, and accused the government of using it for political gains only.

“No one called the families of the Lebanese detailed in Syria, and no one asked about their opinion regarding the proposal.”

But others have come out in support of the Justice Ministry’s plans.

Officials at SOLIDE (Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile), an NGO, have backed a national commission that would address the case of all missing persons.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 18, 2012, on page 4.




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