Lebanon News

Torture is widespread in Lebanon, U.N. report says

Lebanese army soldiers guard two suspected Jihadists, captured following clashes in the northeastern town of Arsal, as they drive through the village of Labweh, Aug. 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID

BEIRUT: Torture is widespread and systematically practiced throughout Lebanon by security agencies and Hezbollah, a new report by the United Nations says. “Torture in Lebanon is a pervasive practice that is routinely used by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies,” the report said.

The study on torture within Lebanon was conducted by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as a part of the U.N. Committee Against Torture’s (CAT) annual report.

Lebanon ratified the U.N. Convention against Torture in 2000 and is therefore subject to a periodic inquiry by CAT.

The authors of this year’s report met with security authorities – including the director generals of the Internal Security Forces and General Security – civil society actors, non-governmental organizations, and individual detainees.

They were accompanied by a doctor who corroborated allegations of torture by examining wounds.

The individual meetings with detainees and examination of detention centers provided the most shocking details in the report. Of the 216 detainees interviewed by the mission, 99 stated that they had been subjected to acts of torture.

According to the report, ‘numerous’ inmates at Hobeish detention center in Beirut had made allegations of torture “either upon arrest or later, in police custody during interrogations.” Some inmates who were being held on drug-related charges claimed members of Hezbollah and the ISF “had beaten them up in the southern suburbs of Beirut while others videoed the beatings on their mobile phones.” The accompanying forensic doctor corroborated some of the details of these claims.

Medical personnel at Baabda’s women’s prison told the report’s authors that physical examinations had revealed “clear signs of torture, including sexual violence.” They also highlighted one case in which an inmate had injuries that may have “resulted from the application of electrical current on the feet.”

The report noted that several inmates at Roumieh prison alleged they had been “severely tortured” by the ISF and/or military interrogators.

A trip to the Information Branch premises at the ISF in Ashrafieh found that the interrogation rooms they observed matched descriptions by the inmates.

One room contained a chair that matched the description given to them by an alleged victim and by Alkarama, a Geneva-based NGO, of an “adjustable metal chair used to stretch the spine, putting severe pressure on the victim’s neck and legs.” ISF personnel reportedly told the authors that the “chair had been used to take photographs of detainees.”

Another room contained an interrogation chair fixed to the floor and eye bolts (often used to shackle the feet of inmates) on the floor next to it, as well as electrical connection boxes fitted into the floor. It matched a description given by inmates at Roumieh prison, the report said.

At the Directorate of Military Intelligence at the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Yarze, Beirut, the reporters noted that there were “several car battery units on the floor of the recording room adjacent to the interrogation room.” They also found a wheelchair stored on the side of the corridor, which military personnel claimed was “to carry disabled people.”

Several inmates reported that they had attempted to lodge complaints with authorities regarding their treatment, but the report concluded that “there were no effective and functioning independent mechanisms for the submissions of complaints of torture and ill-treatment.”

Civil society organizations also informed the authors of the report that there were widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment of foreign nationals and select groups.

“There were persistent reports of torture and ill-treatment of Syrian nationals, Palestinians, persons with limited financial means who were arrested for minor crimes and others held in police custody for alleged drug use, sex work or homosexuality by ... personnel enforcing “morality-related” laws,” the report said.

In the conclusions, the report noted that the vast majority of Syrians interviewed claimed that they had been subjected to torture.

Members of the security agencies that the report interviewed acknowledged the occurrence of torture and ill-treatment but often described it as “isolated incidents.”

The report also documented the government’s response to the conclusions of the report – the government took issue with the report’s methodology and several of its findings.

“The state party claimed to be utterly astounded at the conclusions of the committee. The government also expressed great surprise at the logic employed by the mission in reaching the conclusions,” the report said. “[The government said] the conclusions were based on statements and testimonies that had not been subjected to any close scientific or legal examination.”

The government also claimed that the report did not take into consideration the political, security and economic circumstances affecting the country and the “state authorities were doing their utmost ... in the region’s highly dangerous and sensitive atmosphere and in the shadow of terrorist threats.”

A draft law that included mechanisms to prevent torture has been endorsed by the parliamentary Justice Committee, but it has not yet been tabled for approval by Parliament, the report said.

The report outlines over two-dozen recommendations to the state and security agencies to end torture. These include defining and criminalizing torture and strengthening fundamental legal safeguards to ensure that all detainees have access to them.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 14, 2014, on page 4.

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