Despite recent international condemnation of the practice, summary expulsion of Lebanese men, women, and children from their homes and villages in Israeli-occupied south Lebanon continues.In July 1999, Human Rights Watch published a report Persona Non Grata: The Expulsion of Civilians from Israeli-Occupied Lebanon about the expulsions, which have been carried out since 1985 with little publicity in Israel and internationally.

Israel arms and finances the SLA, and thus bears ultimate responsibility under international humanitarian law for SLA actions in south Lebanon that violate the rights of the civilian population. The expulsions are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and, as such, constitute war crimes, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Prime Minister Barak made public today.

Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention describes unlawful deportation or transfer of civilians as one of the acts that constitute a grave breach of the convention.

"Since 1985, hundreds if not thousands of Lebanese civilians have been ordered to leave their homes and villages without notice and with no means of appeal. They have been summarily dumped in a no man's land without any possessions save the clothes on their backs," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "This cruel and illegal dispossession has destroyed the lives of innocent Lebanese families, and it must stop."

The Lebanese are forced to walk from the last SLA checkpoint in occupied Lebanon to the first Lebanese army checkpoint. From there, they seek shelter with family or friends in territory under the control of the Lebanese government, and attempt to rebuild their lives. They are entitled to receive a minimal, one-time financial assistance payment from the Lebanese government.

In a letter to Barak made public today, Human Rights Watch called on Israel to permit the return of expelled families under safe conditions, free of any form of coercion or intimidation by occupation security authorities.

Human Rights Watch said that Lebanese were expelled from the occupied zone because they refused to cooperate with occupation intelligence forces, because male relatives deserted or refused to join the SLA, and as collective punishment for known or suspected armed attacks by their relatives against Israeli and SLA military forces.

In July 1999, Human Rights Watch published a report about the expulsions, which have been carried out since 1985 with little publicity in Israel and internationally.