Lebanon News

Online initiative shines light on missing

BEIRUT: The missing people of Lebanon aren’t merely numbers and are, just like every one of us, people with their own story. Now, with the help of local organizations, some of these stories are being told at a new project to raise awareness of the issue, which opened Tuesday. An estimated 17,000 Lebanese people disappeared during the 1975-90 Civil War and were never accounted for when fighting finished. There remains no national commission to look into the fate of the missing or to try to find the remains.

The stories of more than 80 missing people are now to be shared through an interactive digital platform titled Fushat Amal, “A Space for Hope.”

The initiative was launched by ACT for the Disappeared, a local organization which campaigns for information on the fate of the thousands of disappeared. ACT for the Disappeared is joined by the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon, Support for Lebanese in Detention and Exile, and several other family and civil society groups.

“What we are doing through this project is to unveil the stories of the missing in Lebanon and to recognize the lives of these people,” Justine Di Mayo, Director of ACT for the disappeared, told The Daily Star.

Through the Fushat Amal project, information and stories about the missing and disappeared people will be available on an interactive website that the public can visit to learn about the issue.

“The idea of the project is to collect the stories of the missing and to create a profile page on the website where we tell the stories of each missing [person],” Di Mayo added. “So the idea is to collect this information from their families and friends and to put this information [online] so it is available to the public.”

The initiative also allows people to log onto the site and submit their own stories of missing family members which will then go online after ACT’s team have reviewed the submissions. Family consent is needed before a profile can be submitted.

The profile of the missing people on the website includes general information about them, when they disappeared, details like their hobbies and interests as well as their education and family status. The site also has a space where the family can share testimonials on how the loss of a missing family member has impacted on them to give people a personal insight into the loss these families endured.

Di Mayo also said that anyone who might have important but sensitive information can also share them in confidence with the team – particularly if they could help in learning the fate of any of the missing people or could point ACT to individual or mass graves.

“The idea shouldn’t only be a depository of information about the missing; the idea is also to engage the families of the missing to express [themselves],” she said. “You know most of the families are isolated and they never had the opportunity to talk about the issue ... they never had the chance to tell the stories of their missing people, to share their experiences and their suffering.”

Di Mayo was keen on underscoring the importance of Fushat Amal as a way through which society could expresses its recognition to the families, and acknowledge the tragedies that have befallen them.

“The idea is not to create a memorial; the families of the missing don’t want an official memorial today in Lebanon because what they want first of all is to know the fate of their loved ones,” she explained. “So we are talking about recognition.”

The Lebanese public themselves are the major target of the project.

By knowing more about the cases of the missing and relating to them and to the demands of the families, ACT hopes that this will help put more pressure on the Lebanese state to create the national commission to investigate.

The 80 stories made available to the public where brought together and collected by ACT’s team and volunteers that engaged youth in the data collection process and conducting interviews with the families.

For Di Mayo, this is vital because of the importance of showing the youth the cases of the disappeared as well as shedding light on the risks of incited violence in Lebanon for a generation that may not have experienced the realities of the Civil War first hand.

Civil society organizations dealing with the cases of the missing and the disappeared will make use of the platform and the information available on it to pursue the cause.

“This project, of course, is not the optimum solution to the issue of the missing and in the end, what the families want is to know is the fate of the missing,” Di Mayo said.

“But this project can be a start, to go further and have Lebanon recognize the tragedy.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 27, 2016, on page 4.

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