(Beirut) - One year after the outbreak of fighting between opposition and pro-government groups that left at least 110 people dead, Lebanese authorities have yet to make public the results of their investigations into the killings of civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. So far, the judiciary has issued only one indictment against an individual who shot at civilians, while other investigations have stalled, with no prosecutions to date.
The fighting began in Beirut on May 7, 2008, killing at least 71 people in the first two weeks, including at least 14 civilians. Fighters on both sides attacked civilians and civilian property. While the groups signed a political settlement in Doha on May 21, they failed to address abuses committed during the fighting. Sporadic clashes continued for another three months in the Beka` and the north, killing another 40 people, including civilians.
"Lebanon's past conflicts make it clear that agreements to stop fighting will not last if they sweep punishment for attacks on civilians under the rug," said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The only way to break this cycle is for the Lebanese people to hold those responsible accountable."
During the fighting, Human Rights Watch visited areas where civilians were killed and often saw Lebanese police and military conducting their own investigations. However, in almost all cases, the investigations have stalled, and the judiciary has taken no further steps. The lawyer for the family of one of the victims killed in Beirut told Human Rights Watch: "The investigation disappeared. Every time we asked where the investigation stood, they say they did not know where the file was. The truth is that they don't want to find out."
Another lawyer, Elie Ghassan, who represents the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, members of which died in the northern town of Halba after being beaten and ill-treated by gunmen, expressed similar frustration. He told Human Rights Watch: "We gave the prosecutor videotapes showing those who killed our members. We even gave them the names of those who appear in the film. Yet, nothing has happened. The file is frozen."
"With the evidence that serious crimes took place last year, it is difficult to understand why the investigations are not leading to anything," Houry said. "The Lebanese authorities should come clean and explain where the investigations stand."
Human Rights Watch has been able to find evidence of only one indictment so far in connection with the violence in May 2008. In September, the First Investigative Judge in Beirut, Abdel Rahim Hammud, issued an indictment against an individual accused of killing two civilians and wounding six others after an altercation broke out during a funeral procession in Tarik al-Jdideh, Beirut on May 10. In other incidents, the police and army detained other individuals on suspicion of possessing weapons and explosives, but released many of them shortly thereafter.