BEIRUT: Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi announced Friday that he would propose once more a decree for the creation of a national commission for the missing and forcibly disappeared at the next Cabinet session.
He spearheaded a similar initiative last fall, but the proposal was rejected by families and advocacy groups.
The latest incarnation has been amended “according to what we heard from and discussed with the relevant ministers” and the Shura Council, Qortbawi said during a news conference.
Representatives for ACT for the Disappeared and the Committee for the Families of the Disappeared said they were surprised by the announcement and had not been informed of any changes to the proposal.
“Truthfully I don’t know why he [Qortbawi] works this way, he just makes things difficult for himself and for us,” said Wedad Helwani of the family committee, adding that she only found out about the minister’s announcement after the fact. “We’ve been waiting 30 years, and now he puts forward a proposal and the families don’t know? Is this a secret? I don’t have an explanation.”
Helwani accused the government of not giving serious consideration to the draft law proposed last year that would formally recognize the right of the families to learn the fate of their loved ones.
It would also oblige anyone with information about the missing, or mass graves, to come forward, although the Civil War amnesty law prevents individuals for being prosecuted for violent crimes committed during the war.
Under the law, mass graves would be protected and the bodies exhumed and transferred to forensic facilities for testing. The law would also provide for the establishment of a body that would have the power to appoint experts and oversee the investigation of suspicious grave sites.
The body proposed by Qortbawi last year would not have been granted such powers.
“We’re not against the decree,” said Lynn Maalouf from ACT for the Disappeared, an advocacy NGO dedicated to raising awareness about missing people. “It’s positive that something is being discussed, but we are hoping for a solution that is comprehensive.”
“An institution created by decree and not by law would not have the same legitimacy,” she explained. “It would be a sort of a quick and easy way to shut an issue rather than really address it.”