(Beirut) - Lebanon has missed a December 22, 2009, deadline for setting up a national institution to prevent torture, a group of Lebanese and international human rights organizations said today. The government should move quickly to consider a proposal commissioned by the Justice Ministry that would address the issue, the groups said.
A year ago, Lebanon signed the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The protocol requires the government to set up a mechanism within a year to prevent torture through regular visits to the country's detention centers.
Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar set up a committee on June 20, including some members of nongovernmental organizations, to draft a proposal to set up the program, and the committee submitted its proposal to the Justice Ministry on September 30. But the government has taken no further steps since then.
"The Justice Ministry took an important step when it created the committee, but now it has to finish what it started. The next step is to send the proposal to the cabinet," the human rights groups said.
The groups that issued the press release are Human Rights Watch, Frontiers Ruwad Association, Al-Karama for Human Rights, Association Libanaise pour l'Education et la Formation (ALEF), Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), Restart Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), and Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center.
The optional protocol is the first international human rights instrument that seeks to prevent torture and other forms of ill-treatment by establishing a system of regular visits to places of detention carried out by independent international and national bodies.
While Lebanese law prohibits torture, a number of detainees, including suspected Islamists and suspected spies for Israel, have told human rights groups that their interrogators beat and tortured them. The abuse was reported to have taken place in several detention facilities, including the Military Intelligence unit of the Ministry of Defense and the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces. In addition, accountability for ill-treatment and torture in detention remains elusive. The Minister of Interior, Ziad Baroud, commissioned an investigation in August 2008 into allegations of torture and abuse in Lebanese prisons, but he has not made the results public.
Lebanon ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2000, but it has yet to comply with some of its provisions, including the submission of a report about steps taken to implement the convention. That report is seven years overdue.
"Lebanon deserves praise for acceding to the convention's optional protocol - but only if it escapes the fate of other human rights instruments that Lebanon has ratified but never implemented," the groups said.
The human rights groups urged the Lebanese government to discuss the proposal submitted by the committee and to approve setting up an inspection mechanism as soon as possible. The groups also urged the Lebanese authorities to take the following steps to halt torture and ill-treatment in Lebanese detention facilities:
- Amend the Penal Code to criminalize all forms of torture, not just physical violence, regardless of the objective of such torture, and to make the crime of torture punishable by a heavier sentence than the current maximum of three years;
- Publish the results of the Interior Ministry's investigations;
- Submit the required initial report to the UN Committee against Torture;
- Adhere to article 22 of the Convention Against Torture by formally recognizing the jurisdiction of the UN's Committee against Torture in reviewing complaints on human rights violations from individuals.