Annex 1: Letter to the Minister of Justice
February 4, 2012
Mr. Shakib Qortbawi Minister of Justice
Lebanese Ministry of Justice, Sami Solh Street, Adliya district Beirut, Lebanon
Dear Minister Qortbawi,
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. While the report mostly focuses on police treatment of detainees, it also examined the role of investigative judges. 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 to us into our report, provided we receive it by February 25, 2013.
1. Lack of Judicial Investigation of Allegations of Torture
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 confessions were false, and in others they amounted to the only piece of evidence presented to support charges against them.
Additionally, Human Rights Watch has found that the current complaints mechanism 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. Out of 49 interviewed who alleged ill-treatment, only 6 filed a complaint. Only two of those interviewed reported that a police officer was disciplined for torture and mistreatment.
Allegations made by former detainees about investigative judges were telling. Twenty-two former detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were brought before investigative judges without the presence of a lawyer guaranteed to them by law. In only three cases reviewed in this report did the investigative judge order an investigation into allegations of duress in the obtaining of confessions. Five former detainees told Human Rights Watch that investigative judges dismissed outright their allegations of mistreatment, intimidation and abuse, while twelve claimed that investigative judges did not take allegations of torture and forced confessions into consideration.
In 2012, how many ISF officers were investigated in connected to abuse of detainees? How many were indicted?
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 they 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.
How is the judiciary overseeing such violations and what measures is it taking to ensure that they do not occur?
Human Rights Watch urges the judiciary to supervise investigations more closely as per its mandate in order to prevent police abuse and mistreatment. It should also take allegations of abuse and torture very seriously and investigate any and all allegations promptly.
We look forward to reading your comments on the above issues.
Thank you for your consideration.
Nadim Houry Deputy director, Middle East and North Africa Division Human Rights Watch