Ziad Itani, a Lebanese actor, who was exonerated of spying for Israel, is carried after he was released by Lebanese authorities. Itani has accused security officials of torturing him and has called on authorities to investigate.

© 2018 AP Photo/Hussein Malla

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s Council of Ministers on March 7, 2019 appointed the five members of the country’s National Preventative Mechanism against Torture, Human Rights Watch said today.

Lebanon’s parliament passed a law establishing the NPM, a body within the National Human Rights Institute (NHRI), on October 19, 2016. The NHRI is mandated to monitor the human rights situation in the country by reviewing laws, decrees, and administrative decisions and by investigating complaints of human rights violations and issuing periodic reports of its findings.

“Lebanon has taken a positive, if overdue, step toward eradicating the use of torture in the country through appointing the members of the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Now, the government should allocate a sufficient budget so that the members can get to work.”

The five-member body will oversee the implementation of the anti-torture law adopted in September 2017. It will have the authority to conduct regular unannounced visits to all places of detention, investigate the use of torture, and issue recommendations to improve the treatment of detainees. The members will be able to interview detainees privately and outside the presence of guards. Lebanese authorities are legally obligated to cooperate with the unit and facilitate its work.

The appointments were mandated by Lebanon’s October 2016 law establishing the unit that also brought Lebanon one step closer to complying with its obligation under the international Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which it ratified on December 22, 2008. The protocol requires Lebanon to create an independent national mechanism to prevent torture, including through regular visits to the country’s detention centers to examine the treatment of detainees.

The cabinet should submit a sufficient budget for both the National Human Rights Institute and the National Preventive Mechanism, and parliament should ratify the budget and related financial decrees to allow those bodies to fulfill their mandates, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch has routinely documented credible reports of torture in Lebanon. However, authorities have failed to properly investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment by security services, and justice for torture in detention remains illusive. Ziad Itani, a well-known actor exonerated of spying for Israel, has described in detail his forced disappearance and torture in detention at the hands of State Security in November 2017.

Human Rights Watch wrote to State Security and the office of the public prosecutor, raising these allegations and urging them to conduct a thorough investigation into the case. It has not received a substantive response.

Itani told Human Rights Watch that he filed a civil lawsuit against the individuals involved in his torture in November 2018. However, he said that the public prosecutor referred the case to the military prosecutor and that there has been no movement on his case. Under international law, torture cases should be heard by regular judicial courts, not military courts. While the preamble in Lebanon’s new torture law specifies that torture cases should be heard by regular judicial courts, this is not reflected in its operational text, leaving open the possibility that Lebanon’s military courts will continue to hear some cases.

In July 2017, at least four Syrians died in military custody within days of their arrest, amid evidence of torture. Although local media reported that the military concluded an investigation into the deaths on July 24, the military has not published the results.

Following Lebanon’s first appearance in 2017 before the Committee Against Torture, the international body charged with overseeing implementation of the convention, the committee noted in its concluding observations that it remained:

concerned at various consistent reports that security forces and military personnel continue to routinely use torture against suspects in custody, including children, who are often held incommunicado, primarily to extract confessions that are to be used in criminal proceedings or as a form of punishment for acts that the victim is believed to have committed.

Lebanon’s 2017 anti-torture law precludes any excuse or justification for the use of torture, prohibits the use of testimony extracted under torture as evidence except against a person accused of committing torture, and provides special procedures for investigating allegations of torture and witness protection.

The need to combat torture and ill-treatment lies at the heart of several international conventions, treaties, and declarations that Lebanon is obligated to uphold under international law and is bound to by the preamble of its constitution. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the optional protocol.

Lebanon should accept the pending request of the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Lebanon, submitted on February 13, 2017. It should also make publicly available the last and only report issued by the Sub-Committee on the Prevention of Torture in 2010, as well as the state’s response submitted in 2012.

“Despite improvements in Lebanon’s anti-torture framework, we have yet to see concrete progress in holding those response for torture to account,” Fakih said. “Lebanon’s authorities should ensure that the institutions they set up to end torture have the resources they need to effect real change.”