June 26, 2013

Annex 2: Letter to the Minister of Interior

February 4, 2012

Mr. Marwan Charbel Minister of Interior

Ministry of the Interior

Al Hamra, Sinai

Beirut, Lebanon

Dear Minister Charbel,

Human Rights Watch is preparing a report on police abuse and mistreatment of vulnerable communities in Lebanon, namely drug users, sex workers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Our established practice is to submit our findings to the authorities whose record is the subject of the report, in order for their information and point of view to be reflected in the reports that we publish.

We submit the questions below, as well as a summary of our principal findings, in the hope that you will respond. We will endeavor to reflect any relevant information you send us into our report, provided we receive it by February 25, 2013.

1. Ill-treatment and Torture in Police Stations

Between February and August 2012, Human Rights Watch spoke to 52 individuals that the Internal Security Forces (ISF) had arrested for suspected drug use, sex work, or homosexuality over the past five years. Forty-nine of those interviewed reported that ISF members threatened, humiliated, or tortured them. According to the witnesses, physical violence was not just used to extract confessions but also as a form of punishment, discipline, and behavioral correction.

The most common forms of torture reported to Human Rights Watch included beatings on different parts of the body, with fists, boots, or implements such as sticks, canes, or rulers. Eleven former detainees said that police forced them to listen to the screams of other detainees being beaten in order to scare them into cooperating or confessing. Seventeen reported being denied food, water, and medication when they needed it, or of having their medication confiscated. Nine individuals reported being handcuffed in bathrooms or in extremely uncomfortable positions for hours at a time.

Fifteen women out of 19 detained for sex work or drug use told Human Rights Watch that police had subjected them to some form of sexual violence, ranging from sexual assault to giving prisoners “favors” (such as cigarettes, food, more comfortable conditions in their cells, or even a more lenient police report) in exchange for sex.

Twenty-three individuals told Human Rights Watch that police extracted confessions from them through mental and physical coercion. In some cases, the suspects told us that the confessions were false, and in others they amounted to the only piece of evidence presented to support charges against them.

We know that the Ministry of Interior and the ISF have taken some steps to reduce torture and abuse in detention by setting up a Human Rights Unit, a torture monitoring body, as well as adopting a Code of Conduct for ISF officers.

We would like to ask you to respond to the following questions so that we can accurately represent the government’s efforts:

  1. What concrete steps are being taken to implement the code of conduct, particularly the prohibition on use of force?
  2. What training is provided to security forces and interrogators with respect to interrogation methods and the use of coercion and torture?
  3. How many visits did the Human Rights Unit conduct in 2012, and to which police stations ? What was the outcome of the visits?

2. Lack of Due process

Individuals who had been detained for sex work, drug use, and homosexuality in Lebanon described to Human Rights Watch being picked up by police and detained without due process: For example, 19 former detainees told Human Rights Watch by did not have access to a lawyer; 12 claimed that investigative judges did not take allegations of torture and forced confessions into consideration; and 14 were not informed of the charges against them. Additionally, Human Rights Watch documented 15 cases in which suspects had been detained for over the 96 hours allowed by law in either the police station or in a courthouse holding cell before appearing in front of a judge.

  1. What measures are in place to prevent police detaining people longer than the time permitted under the Code of Criminal Procedure?
  2. Are statistics available on how long people remain in detention before being referred to an investigative judge?
  3. What measures are in place to ensure that people can call a lawyer or receive medical treatment when requested?

3. Complaints Mechanisms

According to our research, the current complaints mechanism within the ISF and the Ministry of Interior is ineffective, haphazard, and it is very hard for individuals to follow up on their cases. Only six people with whom Human Rights Watch spoke actually took the steps to file any complaints. When asked why they did not file complaints, they responded that they either were directly threatened by the police, had no faith in the system, did not know how to go about it, did not want to risk exposure or retaliation, or were simply too scared. It is especially difficult for communities who are already socially marginalized to file complaints.

Given these findings, we have compiled a list of questions pertaining specifically to the issue of impunity and complaints of police violence and abuse:

  1. In 2012, how many complaints of police abuse has the ISF received?
  2. What is the procedure of following up on submitted complaints?
  3. In 2012, how many investigations were launched on the basis of submitted complaints?
  4. In 2012, what sorts of disciplinary measures were carried out against police officers found guilty of abuse?
  5. What concrete steps has the Ministry of Interior taken to ensure that individuals are able to seek redress for abuse committed by the police?

We look forward to reading your comments on the above issues, as well as any additional comments you wish to provide on the issues of police abuse and redress for violations. We welcome an opportunity to discuss these questions and our preliminary findings with you in person.  As stated above, we will be able to reflect any pertinent information you provide to us by February 25, 2013 in our final report.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Nadim Houry Deputy director, Middle East and North Africa Division Human Rights Watch