Human Rights Developments
Three years after the signing of the Taif Accord officially ended the civil war, human rights violations continue in Lebanon on a regular basis. Under President Elias el-Hrawi, the government has not moved forcefully to curb the increasingly serious abuses committed by its security forces and by organized militia. Meanwhile, the government instituted a number of severe restriction on the free exercise of civil and political rights by Lebanese citizens and long-time residents.
Scores were arbitrarily arrested in 1992 during sweeps targeting suspected opposition sympathizers. Many of those detained were known supporters of ousted former Prime Minister General Michel Aoun, who has been in exile in Marseilles, France since August 1991. Others were suspected of opposition either to the Hrawi government or to the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Middle East Watch learned from relatives of prisoners and from Lebanese human rights monitors of numerous cases of torture during interrogation by Lebanese security forces aided by Syrian intelligence officers. Most detainees were held incommunicado for long periods, denied access to family and legal counsel. None of those suspected of political and security offenses has been tried before regularly constituted courts; a small number were reportedly tried secretly before military tribunals.
Politically motivated abductions of opposition figures apparentlyresumed in Lebanon in 1992. On August 1, Nasri al-Khouri Sader, a lawyer affiliated with the opposition, was kidnapped with a number of companions by unknown assailants. Sader's abduction prompted a lengthy strike by the members of the Lebanese Lawyers Union. In a statement issued on September 10, the lawyers union protested the lack of progress in finding Sader and his companions. It said the abduction came "within a series of attacks against a large number of lawyers, the arrest, without due process of law, of tens of Lebanese citizens and their incommunicado detention." On September 15, Butrus Khawand, a member of the Political Bureau of the Lebanese Phalanges Party (al-Katayeb), was abducted by armed men near his home in Beirut. By the end of November, Sader and Khawand were still missing.
Resumption of kidnapping for political reasons was alarming to the Lebanese, since thousands disappeared or were taken hostage during the 15-year civil war. In March, the Lebanese government published its estimates of the war casualties: 144,240 killed; 197,506 wounded, including 13,455 who were left with permanent handicaps; and 17,415 missing, among whom 13,968 were classified as "kidnapped and presumed dead."
The Hrawi government has imposed restrictions on the press, radio and television. In September 1991, the Ministry of Justice served notice to Lebanese journalists that they should abide by 1977 press regulations banning criticism of the president and foreign heads of states, as well as publication of material that may adversely affect Lebanon's foreign relations. In April 1992, a sweeping new regulation banned the broadcast of material that disturbs public order, incites sectarian animosity, harms Lebanon's relations with other countries or disparages leaders of friendly nations.
Several newspapers and magazines were temporarily banned under these regulations in 1992. In February, two dailies, al-Nahar (The Day) and al-Diyar (The Homeland) were banned for publishing excerpts from a book by General Michel Aoun. In addition, a number of reporters were prosecuted for publishing articles critical of President Hrawi, his family or foreign leaders. In September, following a complaint by the Kuwaiti chargé d'affairs in Lebanon, legal proceedings were opened against the Beirut daily al-Safir (The Ambassador) for publishing an article considered defamatory of Kuwaiti senior officials. On September 23, a reporter and three photographers were beaten by the police after they persisted in trying to cover a political meeting of the opposition.
The Lebanese government also tried to revive the near monopoly over radio and television that it enjoyed prior to the start of the civil war in 1975. It announced plans to close all private stations that were established during the 15-year war. Special "media prosecutors" were to be installed in the offices of the Chief Public Prosecutor to ensure compliance with the new policy.
The Hrawi government has gone to great lengths to stifle criticism of its policies both inside and outside Lebanon. In December 1991, its embassy in Paris was able to obtain a list of 85 individuals, most of them Lebanese, who demonstrated in Paris against President Hrawi during an official visit to France. Brigadier General Sami al-Khatib, the Lebanese Interior Minister, later said that the authorities intended to arrest the Lebanese citizens on the list if they returned to Lebanon; the foreigners would be barred from entering Lebanon. Similarly, in May 1992, the Chief Public Prosecutor, Judge Maurice Khawwam, started criminal proceedings against Najah Wakim, a member of the Chamber of Deputies who denounced corruption in the government. The proceedings were effectively suspended when the Chamber refused the government's demand to strip Wakim of his parliamentary immunity.
Freedom of association has likewise come under severe attack by the Hrawi government. During 1992, the government banned 138 private associations, including political organizations, claiming that they were illegal for having been formed during the civil war without proper licenses. In fact, a number of these groups, such as the pro-Iraq Ba`th Party and the Republican Party, predated the civil war. The ban limited the ability of opposition groups to prepare for the national elections held in August and September. On October 26, the main headquarters of the Lebanese Phalanges Party, in al-Ashrafiyya, were raided by Lebanese Army forces. They arrested the guards and confiscated all documents and other property. The party, one of the main Christianpolitical groups, had boycotted the elections.
In its zeal to hold parliamentary elections, the first since 1972, despite opposition by a majority of Lebanese, the Hrawi government rushed through preparations. It apparently was eager to complete the elections before the start of the Syrian force redeployment stipulated in the Taif Accord.
In the election process the Lebanese government violated both the spirit and letter of the Taif agreement, and circumvented a number of long-established electoral laws. More than one-third of potential voters were disenfranchised by a decision to abolish absentee ballots: the 933,000 persons who left Lebanon during the civil war were not allowed to vote unless they returned to cast their ballots in the electoral districts in which they were registered in the 1972 elections, while the 750,000 internally displaced Lebanese were not allowed to vote outside their original places of residence.
The election regulations passed during the year were fraught with provisions that served to strengthen government powers. For example, in certain provinces, district-level elections were introduced, apparently to improve election prospects for government candidates. In an attempt to lessen sectarian divisions, the Taif Accord had stipulated that elections be held at the provincial level, in the place of district-level contests that were common in the prewar period.
It was in this charged atmosphere that the elections were held between August 23 and September 6. Fearing retribution from Syrian forces and the Hrawi government, opposition groups did not feel free to campaign vigorously against either. Many potential opposition candidates, including members of parliament, boycotted the elections out of concern for their own safety. A number of senior government officials, including Fares Bouez, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and son-in-law of President Hrawi, tendered their resignations in protest of the timing of the elections. The boycott was extensive in most Christian areas, and in the Kesrouan district, it was nearly total; a by-election had to be held on October 11 to fill the district's five seats. In the Jubail district, a candidate won with only 41 votes cast. With most of the Christian opposition and significant segments of the Muslim opposition having boycotted the contest, the new 128-member Chamber of Deputies is largely made up of Hrawi government loyalists and pro-Syrian figures, as well as fundamentalist Shi`a and Sunni representatives.
The pervasive Syrian influence in Lebanon in 1992 supported the repressive measures of the Lebanese government. Taking advantage of Syria's September 1991 agreement with Lebanon, agents of Syrian Military Intelligence were active in the Beirut International Airport and other ports of entry into Lebanon, to prevent Syrian government opponents from entering or leaving the country without being interrogated or detained. One detainee was Dr. Akram Salim Ishty, a Lebanese physician and a professor at the American University of Beirut. He was arrested by Syrian forces based in Lebanon and taken to jail in Syria, apparently to induce the surrender of his brother, a dissident Ba`th Party member.
The 35,000 Syrian troops that are still deployed in most of Lebanon are an effective deterrent to the voicing of any criticism of Syria. Contrary to earlier hints that Syrian troops may soon be redeployed outside Greater Beirut to the eastern Beqa`, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, Syria's Vice President, said in early November that such redeployment would take place only after the constitutional changes stipulated in the Taif Accord were adopted.
Israel and the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army (sla) have been responsible for serious human rights violations in Lebanon. Shelling and air raids by Israel and its allies on the civilian areas of Lebanon's southern towns and villages, while ostensibly directed against guerilla bases, produced a heavy toll of civilian casualties. The sla also engaged in the indiscriminate shelling of adjacent villages, the forced conscription of young men, and a policy of arbitrary arrest, lengthy incommunicado detention and torture of suspected opponents held in its notorious Khiam prison. An estimated 200 detainees are still being held in Khiam without charge or trial and without access to family or independent outsiders.
The Iranian-supported Hezbollah is the only other major militia that has not been disarmed by the Lebanese government. It, too, has been implicated in a significant number of human rights violations. In December 1991, MustafaJeha, a Lebanese Shi`a writer who had been a critic of the fundamentalist group, was assassinated. On June 3, 1992, an unarmed doctor was killed by Hezbollah partisans in Tyre after he had voiced criticism of the party. These abuses were all the more alarming after Hezbollah's victories in the second and third rounds of parliamentary election. Now that Hezbollah controls a significant bloc of votes in the new Chamber of Deputies, the government may be less inclined to curb human rights abuses by Hezbollah loyalists.
Ostensibly aiming to pressure Israel to abandon the Lebanese border area it controls, Hezbollah has engaged in indiscriminate shelling of northern Israel, causing civilian casualties. Hezbollah's attacks on areas under sla control have also caused extensive damage and casualties among noncombatants.
The Right to Monitor
Although there is no explicit prohibition against human rights work in Lebanon, human rights groups and individual activists report that various extralegal methods are used to restrict their activity. Lebanese and Syrian security forces, as well as the militias allied with them or with Iran and Israel, have employed violent tactics aimed at stifling human rights reporting, including assassinations, kidnapping, torture and death threats.
While a number of groups operate openly, but cautiously, others function only clandestinely or abroad. Among the established groups are the Committee for the Defense of Democratic Freedoms in Lebanon, the Lebanese Association for Human Rights and the Lebanese Lawyers Association, all based in Beirut. Outside Lebanon, the Lebanese League for Human Rights is especially active in France and Belgium.
Humanitarian organizations report regularly on human rights developments in Lebanon. Among the Beirut-based groups are the Lebanese ngo Forum and the Movement of the Handicapped & Youth for Human Rights and Peace. The Centre for Lebanese Studies, of Oxford, and the London-based Lebanon Information Processing Services, affiliated with the British Refugee Council, publish regular bulletins on human rights in Lebanon. The Lebanon Report, published monthly by the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, a research institution in Beirut, regularly contains articles related to human rights.
Because of the dangers human rights monitors face, they have avoided issuing public reports about specific abuses. Only organizations functioning abroad or underground have gathered and disseminated such information publicly.
U.S. policy toward Lebanon has been guided by three overriding concerns: restoring the authority of the Lebanese government, ensuring the continued participation of Lebanon in the Arab-Israeli peace talks, and improving U.S. relations with Syria. Unfortunately, in pursuing these goals the Bush administration appears to have subordinated human rights concerns. During 1992, U.S. officials avoided voicing public criticism of human rights violations committed by Lebanese, Syrian or Israeli government forces or their allies in Lebanon.
Nor, until after the polling had taken place, did the U.S. government voice public criticism of the unfair manner in which elections were being prepared, against the wishes of most Lebanese. Indeed, the Lebanese government fixed the date for these controversial elections only two days after Secretary Baker met with President Hrawi in Lebanon, indicating that the Lebanese government was not sufficiently apprised of U.S. concerns about the elections.
Once the elections were completed, U.S. officials voiced some criticism. On September 8, for the first time expressing public disappointment at the election results, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said:
The United States is clearly disappointed that the elections were not prepared and not carried out in a manner to ensure the broadest national consensus. The turnout of eligible voters in some locations was extremely low. There were also widespread reports of irregularities which might have been obviated had there been foreign observers. As a consequence the results don't reflect the full spectrum of the body politic in Lebanon.
Boucher noted balloting irregularities. However, he failed to register any protest over the arrests of scores of government opponents during the election period, one action among many taken by the Lebanese government to limit the ability of the opposition to run an effective campaign.
U.S. criticism came only after it became clear that fundamentalist groups and their supporters had secured over 30 seats in the 128-seat parliament-the largest bloc in the new assembly. It appeared as if the administration refrained from criticizing the elections so long as loyalists of the Hrawi government and Syria were expected to prevail.
On October 1, Edward Djerejian, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, repeated before a House subcommittee the remarks made earlier by spokesman Boucher. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, Secretary Djerejian announced that the administration was considering providing assistance to the Lebanese military. He sought congressional support for the resumption of training in the United States for Lebanese officers and enlisted persons. The administration also wanted to provide Lebanon with "non-lethal excess defense articles that would enhance the Lebanese Army's mobility and range of operation," the Secretary added. The U.S. provided Lebanon with $6.8 million in fiscal year 1991 for military training and supplementary support, and an estimated $4.1 in fiscal year 1992. For fiscal year 1993, the administration requested $5.4 million for the two purposes.
Despite the relatively low level of aid to Lebanon, the U.S. government maintains profound influence in the country. Lebanese of all factions look to the United States to provide help in restoring normalcy, including respect for civil and political rights. They feel that, as the U.S. helped broker the Taif Accord, so it should continue its efforts and help the Lebanese conclude a social contract based on respect for human rights. Their hope has not been fulfilled.
The Work of Middle East Watch
In 1992, Middle East Watch monitored events in Lebanon affecting human rights, including actions taken by the Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli governments, as well as by pro-Iranian Hezbollah and the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army. On September 15, Middle East Watch testified about conditions in Lebanon before a joint session of the Europe and Middle East and the International Organizations House subcommittees. During the year, Middle East Watch wrote to President Hrawi voicing its concern over the waves of arrests of political opponents, but has received no response to its letters.