June 26, 2013

Annex 3: Response from the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities

Lebanese Republic

Ministry of Interior and Municipalities

The Minister

Dear Human Rights Watch,

Having read your letter in preparation for the publication of your report on police violations, we wish to clarify several matters:

1. Regarding the lack of judicial investigations of torture allegations

The status of human rights within the Internal Security Forces is in a state of ongoing development. We must note several important matters in this field:

  1. The establishment of a human rights department in the Office of the General Inspector of the Internal Security Forces in 2008;
  2. The establishment of a committee to investigate cases of torture in the Internal Security Forces;
  3. The issuance of a code of conduct; and
  4. The issuance and recent adoption of a strategic plan for the Internal Security Forces. The plan defines a clear vision, namely “to fulfill the hopes of citizens and gain their full confidence.” The plan identifies several priorities, the first being respect for human rights and liberties.

Regarding tangible steps taken to implement the code of conduct, the general directorate amended the internal penal provisions for misconduct to include human rights violations in the disciplinary code of the Internal Security Forces, a fundamental measure to implement the code of conduct.

The code of conduct is also a mandatory part of the curriculum at the Training Academy in Werwar, as is a human rights component in the curriculum. In this respect, a detailed learning kit was designed in full compliance with international standards and with provisions in the constitution and existing laws, as well as with international conventions to which Lebanon is party in this field.

Several training programs are carried out in close cooperation with nongovernmental organizations for officers and personnel in various fields, particularly in the areas of judicial investigation – focusing on the provisions of the code of conduct and human rights more generally – and on improving the level of criminal investigation. Currently the final touches are being put on the Practical Guide for Criminal Investigation Techniques, prepared by a group of judges and officers in direct cooperation with the EU.

Regarding visits to detention facilities, in 2012 the Internal Security Forces’ anti-torture committee, comprised of seven officers, among them the chair of the human rights department, visited all prisons, holding cells, and the Palace of Justice, as well as a number of holding cells in police stations, regional groups, factions regional branches, administration offices, and judicial offices, to determine the conditions of detainees, cells, and detention facilities. These visits had a positive impact on improving light, paint, and other conditions. At the end of each visit, the committee prepares a report and forwards it to the general directorate, with clear recommendations for the punishment of any human rights offenders, and indeed several persons were punished.

2. Regarding the lack of proper procedures

Article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedures clearly defines the duration of detention in judicial police centers, which, as you noted, may not exceed 96 hours. Article 48 of the code explicitly states that judicial officers who contravene these detention rules commit the crime of deprivation of liberty stipulated in Article 367 of the Penal Code.

Yet, we must note that the detention order is a judicial order given by the competent public prosecutor. As such, it is not a prerogative of the judicial police officer—an extremely significant point. In practice, when any arrested person is held in judicial police centers for more than this specified period, which happens occasionally, it is because the Palace of Justice is unable to process all detainees. They are therefore held in safety at a center for judicial administration on behalf of the competent Public Prosecution, pursuant to a clear, explicit judicial order.

As for the ability of persons to contact attorneys or receive medical treatment when requested, these rights are explicitly upheld in Article 47 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Given the importance of these rights, they are posted at the main entrances of most detention cells and detention centers in Arabic, English, and French. They are also clearly noted on the second page of the interrogation report. The judicial police officer must read these rights to the arrested person immediately upon taking him into custody for questioning and obtain his signature and this under threat of criminal and disciplinary action.

In practice, a doctor and attorney are usually made available as follows: the judicial police officer secures a doctor with the Internal Security Forces or another body pursuant to the Public Prosecution’s order and provides the attorney requested by the detainee without need for an official power of attorney as dictated by procedures.

3. Regarding mechanisms for complaints

You stated in your letter that the existing complaint mechanisms in the Ministry of Interior and the Internal Security Forces are ineffective and arbitrary, and it is difficult for individuals to track the progress of their cases and complaints.

We publicly announce that it is no secret that we read the above with surprise and dismay. Although the mechanisms for complaints may not be uniform, they are largely effective. Citizens can submit complaints to several sources, including but not limited to the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, the Office of the General Inspector, the competent divisions at the General Directorate of the Internal Security Forces, and the direct superior of the person against whom the complaint is lodged. This is in addition to complaints filed with the competent judicial bodies when the actions constitute a criminal offense.

Moreover, complaints filed with the ministry and the general directorate are pursued with the necessary diligence, starting when persons are summoned for questioning and until the complainant is informed of the result of his complaint, and this happens daily.

It must be noted that your letter stated that people who did not file complaints were afraid or had no confidence in the system. In our opinion, this is avoiding the proper course of action, and the problem is with the person who does not file a complaint, for by failing to do so, he aids the offender in committing further abuses. As such, we encourage all persons to file their complaints in accordance with the rules, so that we may limit violations and punish offenders when necessary.

It should further be noted that granting compensation for abuses is not within the purview of the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, but is rather up to the courts. The ministry and all its agencies, particularly law enforcement agencies, are subject to existing laws and orders of the competent judiciary, first and foremost the judgments it issues, particularly in connection with human rights violations. It is worth pointing out that we are witnessing a fundamental transformation in judicial rulings in this regard, as some courts have begun to rely on the provisions of international conventions in addition to the constitution and domestic laws.

 Work is underway to create a scientific database using advanced technology in the human rights department. The database will include all complaints, actions taken, and the outcome, and will be available for reference when needed. The human rights department is also currently documenting all official and unofficial interactions related to human rights. The logistics for this are currently under preparation, while the department is acquiring the additional staff necessary to perform its tasks.