(Beirut) – Lebanon’s Justice Ministry should immediately issue a directive ordering an end to anal examinations as part of police investigative procedures to determine suspects’ sexual behavior, Human Rights Watch said today. The ministry should follow the lead of the Lebanese Doctor’s Syndicate, which recently denounced the tests as a form of torture.
The Lebanese authorities should drop all homosexuality-related charges against three men arrested during a raid on a cinema in Beirut on July 28, 2012, Human Rights Watch said. The government should take steps to repeal article 534 of the Lebanese penal code, which criminalizes “sexual relations against nature” and is used to prosecute men for homosexuality.
“Forensic anal examinations of men suspected of homosexual contact, conducted in detention, constitute degrading and humiliating treatment,” said Rasha Moumneh, a Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, based in Beirut. “These ‘tests of shame,’ as Lebanese rights organization the Legal Agenda has dubbed them, should stop immediately – the state has no business punishing and degrading its citizens for consensual sexual conduct.”
The Internal Security Forces vice squad arrested 36 men during the July 28 raid on a movie theater suspected of screening pornographic movies in the Burj Hammoud district of Beirut, the third such raid in recent months. The men were transferred to Hbeich police station, where they were subjected to anal examinations. The examinations are conducted by forensic doctors on orders of the public prosecutor to “prove” whether a person has engaged in homosexual sex. The police released all of the men several days later but charged three of them under article 534, partly on the basis of the examinations.
Lebanese public prosecutors often order invasive and abusive, anal examination procedures for men suspected of homosexual sex, Human Rights Watch said. Lebanese civil society organization the Legal Agenda has spearheaded efforts to end these examinations, leading the head of the Lebanese Doctor’s Syndicate, Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, to issue a directive on August 8 calling for an end to anal examinations, stating that they are medically and scientifically useless in determining whether consensual anal sex has taken place and that they constitute a form of torture. He added that they also violate article 30 of the Lebanese law on medical ethics, which prohibits doctors from engaging in harmful practices.
The tests also violate international standards against torture, including the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Lebanon has ratified. The U.N. Committee Against Torture, in its 2002 review of Egypt, investigated the issue of forensic anal examinations and called on the government “to prevent all degrading treatment on the occasion of body searches.”
The tests are also carried out in violation of professional medical principles, including those of the World Medical Association and the UN Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, Particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Principle 4 of the document states that:
"It is a contravention of medical ethics for health personnel, particularly physicians… to apply their knowledge and skills in order to assist in the interrogation of prisoners and detainees in a manner that may adversely affect the physical or mental health or condition of such prisoners or detainees and which is not in accordance with the relevant international instruments."
In addition, they have no evidentiary value and their findings should not be regarded as probative in a court of law.
Research conducted by Human Rights Watch on police abuse of marginalized groups in Lebanon has shown that both police and doctors use invasive bodily examinations, both anal and vaginal, as a form of punishment, intimidation, and humiliation. In August 2010, a police officer at the Msaitbeh Police Station threatened to physically force a Human Rights Watch researcher and a local activist, who were visiting a detained man charged with “unnatural sexual relations,” to submit to a “virginity test,” in an effort to intimidate and humiliate them.
A young man told the Legal Agenda and later confirmed to Human Rights Watch that the doctor who performed an anal examination on him in June, after police arrested him on suspicion of homosexuality, tried to threaten him into confessing, telling him that if the test turned out “positive” and he had lied about his homosexuality, his punishment would be much harsher.
In a statement given to the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar on August 2, Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said that he had two months earlier written Attorney General Said Mirza urging him “to halt random rectal examination procedures, after the issue was raised by human rights organizations.” However, the attorney general’s subsequent directive, the text of which Legal Agenda, a Lebanese rights organization, published on August 7, contradicts the Minister’s statement to Al-Akhbar.
Far from ordering an end to the procedures, the attorney general’s directive in fact institutionalized them further, instructing public prosecutors to order the anal examination be carried out only “with the consent of the accused, according to standard medical procedures, and in a manner that does not cause significant harm.” The directive added that if the accused refused to undergo the examination, he should be informed that his refusal “constitutes proof of the crime.”
Anal and vaginal examinations are used in various countries as a form of torture, humiliation, and degradation. Human Rights Watch documented the use of forensic anal examinations in Egypt on 52 men arrested for “debauchery” in a popular nightclub in Cairo in 2002. More recently, Human Rights Watch criticized Egyptian authorities for forcing detained female activists to undergo vaginal examinations in March 2011 as a way to intimidate and silence them for their political work. In Iraq, courts routinely force women to undergo vaginal examinations to determine their virginity, often at the request of their families.
As part of its obligation to respect the private lives and personal liberties of individuals, the Lebanese government should end these tests of shame and repeal laws criminalizing consensual sex between adults, including article 534, Human Rights Watch said.
“These hurtful and degrading examinations should stop immediately, especially now that the Lebanese Doctor’s Syndicate has made clear that they are forensically valueless and constitute a form of torture,” Moumneh said. “The government should be concerned with the security and livelihoods of its citizens, rather than subjecting them to abuse under the guise of determining their sexual practices.”