June 26, 2013

IV. Impunity

Lebanon’s record in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for torture is abysmal. Despite the formal criminalization of the use of violence to extract confessions, the Lebanese judiciary rarely, if ever, investigates or prosecutes allegations of torture.[92]

Hopes were raised on August 6, 2008, when the Minister of Interior asked the General Inspectorate to investigate allegations of abuse occurring inside Lebanese prisons. This followed serious allegations of corruption and of ill-treatment of prisoners in Roumieh prison. However, the ministry never made public the results of the investigation and it is unclear whether anyone was charged.[93] According to Lt-Colonel Kaed Bey, the head of the ISF’s Human Rights Unit, there are no official statistics on the number of complaints filed against members of the ISF or the number of investigations and prosecutions that resulted.[94]

The apathy of investigative judges is partly to blame. In only two of six cases we examined in which detainees filed complaints alleging abuse did the investigative judge order inquiries into the allegations.[95] Several NGOs have reported that, in most cases, investigative judges ignore allegations of torture and admit confessions obtained through coercion or torture, even when it is the only evidence presented at trial.

Inadequate Complaint Mechanisms

Technically, it is fairly easy to file a complaint against an ISF officer. A complaint may be made in person, by phone, through the public prosecutor’s office, or through an intermediary (anonymous complaints are not accepted).[96] In practice, however, the complaints mechanism is ineffective and haphazard, and it is hard for individuals to follow up on their cases. There is no central office where complaints are processed and no system by which the complainant can keep track of the complaint. The lack of a centralized system also makes it difficult to document the number of complaints filed and their outcomes. Because of the lack of name tags on officers’ uniforms, it is often difficult for people to correctly identify their abusers.

Only six people that Human Rights Watch spoke to actually filed a complaint. When we asked the others why they did not file complaints, they responded that they 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.

Only two of the six complainants we spoke with said that measures had been taken against the offending police officers, although in one of those cases the officer was demoted (the case, detailed above, involved a police beating that resulted in permanent injuries to the detainee and a $5,000 medical bill that the detainee said he had to pay himself).[97]

In two of the other four cases where complaints were filed, interviewees told Human Rights Watch that their lawyer did not follow up with the case and no decision was reached. In the remaining two cases, interviewees said that police told them that there was not enough evidence to determine that abuse had taken place.

Moumneh, the Human Rights Watch researcher whom police threatened with a forced virginity test, promptly filed a complaint against the officer with both the Minister of Interior and the General Director of the ISF, and was asked to give her testimony twice. The process at the Ministry of Interior was respectful and attentive, while the process in the Msaitbeh police station left much to be desired. Rather than objectively assess the situation and take her testimony, the investigating officer attempted to make excuses for the assaulting officer’s behavior, suggesting overtly that it was normal that he thought that Moumneh might be a sex worker because she was visiting a person charged with homosexuality and because she had a visible tattoo. And having assumed she was a sex worker, the investigating officer said, it was also normal that the offending officer would have treated her in such a manner. The officer writing down the testimony went so far as to say that he would have done the same thing, and constantly referred to Moumneh’s personal life in a derogatory and humiliating manner.

Such treatment indicates an extreme lack of professionalism in the ISF and a lack of proper training about how to handle complaints and investigations. Human Rights Watch was later informed that the officer responsible for the assault was given a four-day jail sentence.

Nawal, the woman that was sexually assaulted in Baabda police station, told police officers in Hobeish police station about the assault the next day. Still traumatized by the incident, she was taken back to the exact place where the assault happened and six male police officers asked her to walk them through the incident and identify the men. Nawal trembled and cried as she recounted the story to Human Rights Watch:

It was humiliating. They were all men, I was still completely shaken and scared by what had happened and they immediately put me in front of the police officers who attacked me. They denied it and gave me the dirtiest looks. The officers in Hobeish told me they would take care of the situation, but I still don’t know if anything happened. I didn’t tell the investigative judge—I assumed that telling police officers in Hobeish was enough. They didn’t explain to me what the procedure to complain was or how to do it. I just wanted to get it over with.[98]

Lack of Proper Oversight Mechanisms

One of the most important provisions in the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) is that Lebanon is required to set up a “national preventive mechanism” (NPM) to help prevent torture through a monitoring system that includes periodic visits to detention facilities by independent monitors. However, Lebanon’s record to date raises serious concerns that the fate of OPCAT implementation will be similar to that of Lebanon’s implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Lebanon has yet to comply with provisions of the latter treaty, including the requirement that it submit a report detailing steps it has taken to implement the treaty to the CAT Committee, the international body responsible for overseeing implementation of the treaty. That report is now 11 years overdue. An additional reason for concern is that Lebanon ratified CAT with reservations to article 22, which allows for individual complaints to the CAT Committee when internal mechanisms of redress prove ineffective.

Under the OPCAT, states parties are required to create NPMs to monitor and conduct regular visits to places of detention and make recommendations to the authorities for improvements in the treatment of detainees and their conditions of detention. In November 2011, two members of parliament (MPs) introduced a draft bill to establish an NPM, the result of two years of consultations among MPs, national and international NGOs, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The draft bill mandates the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, which includes a permanent Committee for the Prevention of Torture, a body tasked with carrying out the duties of the NPM. The Human Rights Committee of the Lebanon’s parliament began examining the draft legislation in January 2012, two years after the deadline for the establishment of the NPM had passed, and at this writing parliament had still not passed it.

Since 2007 Lebanon has taken some steps to counter torture. In February 2007, it granted the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all Lebanese detention facilities, including those run by the Ministry of Defense. In accordance with OPCAT, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) visited Lebanon from May 24 to June 2, 2010, and presented its confidential preliminary observations to Lebanese authorities. The Internal Security Forces Inspectorate General then created a Human Rights Department by decree no. 755 of January 3, 2008, tasking it with disseminating knowledge of human rights and enhancing human rights awareness amongst ISF officers.[99] In February 2011, the ISF created its Committee for Monitoring against the Use of Torture and Other Inhuman Practices in Prisons and Detention Centers, jointly administered by the ISF and Lebanese prisoner rights organization Association Justice and Mercy (AJEM). In January 2012 the ISF also launched an official Code of Conduct which sets out professional and ethical standards of behavior to guarantee respect for human rights and protection of public freedoms in accordance with Lebanon’s Constitution and its human rights obligations.

However, the Human Rights Department remains severely understaffed and effectively exercises no real power. It cannot, for example, order or carry out investigations into allegations of torture or mistreatment. Thus far it has also not reported any of its findings to the public. The Committee for Monitoring against the Use of Torture is toothless and so far has not operated as an effective body for prevention or accountability.

[92] Alef, “Situational Update on the Occurrences and Trend of Torture in Lebanon (2008-2010),” October 2010, http://www.univie.ac.at/bimtor/dateien/lebanon_progress_report_en.pdf (accessed February 4, 2013); Human Rights Watch interview with Ghada Jabbour (Kafa), Beirut, Lebanon, August 17, 2012; Human Rights Watch interview with Nizar Saghieh, August 21, 2012, Beirut, Lebanon.

[93] “Lebanon’s 2009 Parliamentary Elections: A Human Rights Agenda,” Human Rights Watch news release, May 13, 2009,  http://www.hrw.org/news/2009/05/13/lebanon-s-2009-parliamentary-elections.

[94] Human Rights Watch interview with Lt-Colonel Ziad Kaed Bey, Beirut, Lebanon, July 27, 2012.

[95] The two cases remain pending.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with Lt-Colonel Ziad Kaed Bey, Beirut, Lebanon, July 27, 2012.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Mohammad, Beirut, Lebanon, June 3, 2012.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with Nawal, Beirut, Lebanon, August 15, 2012.

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with Lt-Colonel Ziad Kaed Bey, Beirut, Lebanon, July 27, 2012.