Human Rights Developments
The year was marked by frequent attacks on the peaceful exercise of civil and political rights, especially freedom of the press and assembly. In November 1992, President Elias el-Hrawi chose Rafiq al-Hariri to form a new government. The appointment improved the economic prospects of Lebanon by restoring a measure of confidence in the financial future of the country. But the government of al-Hariri, a Lebanese-Saudi billionaire and businessman, appeared to subordinate respect for civil and political rights to the strengthening of the armed forces and rebuilding the Lebanese economy, devastated by the fifteen-year civil war. The government often stated that Lebanon suffered from an "excessive freedom" that inflamed sectarian passions and made reconciliation difficult. Under the pretext of maintaining civil peace, the government jailed protesters, closed down news organizations and prosecuted reporters and publishers. Following an August ban of all demonstrations, on September 13 army troops used force to disperse demonstrations, with disastrous results: seven men and one woman were killed and about forty other peaceful demonstrators injured.
The year witnessed the government's growing reliance on special courts, such as military courts and the Publications Court, where procedures are abbreviated and the rights of defense are circumscribed. Critics of the government, including supporters of the Lebanese Forces, the largest Christian militia, and Gen. Michel Aoun, the ousted former prime minister, were frequently arrested, questioned and warned against further political activity. Others were tried before special courts and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
During November and December 1992, scores were arrested after leaflets critical of President el-Hrawi were distributed on November 22, 1992, Lebanon's independence day. The leaflets criticizedSyria and supported General Aoun, an outspoken critic who has lived in exile in France since August 1991. Many of those detained were known supporters of the general. As the government considered the offending leaflets defamatory of the commander-in-chief (President el-Hrawi), and weakening of the army morale, it deemed that the case fell under the competence of military courts, despite the fact that the defendants were civilian and the charges did not involve the use of violence. In late December 1992, twelve were formally charged by the military prosecutor. The following April, a military court sentenced most of the defendants to prison terms of up to seven years for the printing and distribution of those leaflets.
On July 6, Elie Mahfoud, head of the Movement for Change, a pro-Aoun opposition group, was arrested. He was charged with falsely accusing the government of arbitrarily holding hundreds of detainees, thus harming the reputation of the state. On July 13, after a summary trial before a military court, Mahfoud was convicted of "defaming official Lebanese institutions" by distributing the press statement. He was sentenced to two months in prison, later commuted to one week.
In July the Military Court of Cassation ratified in July judgments rendered by lower military courts in the case of suspects linked to an August 1992 deadly explosion in the headquarters of the Lebanese Army's First Brigade in Beirut. The two dead, Capt. Imad Abboud and Sgt. Philip Wanis, were suspected by the authorities of involvement in the explosion. Five officers and two civilians were sentenced to prison terms ranging from four months to five years. The defendants' confessions of guilt had been elicited through the use of force, according to defense lawyers.
Alarmed by the increase in detention of government opponents and their ill-treatment, the Maronite Bishops Council criticized the security forces' excesses. In a statement issued on July 13, the council deplored "the arbitrary arrests of young men, including teenagers, which are accompanied by beatings, humiliation and insults. These actions are committed with disregard to the laws preventing arbitrary arrests, ignore the safeguards stipulated in these laws, and violate human rights."
Arbitrary arrests for peaceful expression resumed in October and continued in November. Between October 19 and November 4, dozens of Aoun supporters were arrested after some of them participated in a television program in which they voiced support for the General and criticized the Syrian presence in Lebanon. According to reports by Beirut-based lawyers and human rights monitors, the detainees included Abbad Zuwain, a writer and political activist, and his brother Najib Zuwain, Albert Shidyaq, Jean Eid, Paul Kallab, Tony Bitar and Patrick Khoury-all were arrested, without warrants, by plainclothes security forces. On October 29, Minister of Justice Bahij Tabbara confirmed the arrest of an unspecified number and described it as "precautionary detention." Other officials described the detainees as "suspected Aoun supporters," some of whom were also suspected of distributing pro-Aoun leaflets. When Abbad Zuwain, who is a prominent Aoun supporter, was released on October 29, it was learned that he had been beaten severely by Syrian intelligence officers during interrogation about his political activity.
Under Lebanese law, those arrested must be released or referred to the public prosecutor's office within twenty-four hours of their arrest. This rule was frequently violated, with detainees held incommunicado without charge for weeks or longer. Access to lawyers improved during 1993, thanks mainly to the efforts of a recently-formed Emergency Committee of the Lebanese Lawyers' Association. Nevertheless, many of those detained by the military were held for periods as long as several months without access to family or lawyers. Lawyers complained about the lack of cooperation on the part of the chief military prosecutor's office in facilitating access. This was especially true in cases where politically motivated crimes were suspected. Between August 2 and 4, the army intelligence forces arrested several officials of the Lebanese Forces, an opposition group, including Jacques Zifikian, George al-`Alam, Tony Abou Younis and Jan `Aqouri. Tens of other members and supporters of the Lebanese Forces were arrested and their houses and offices were raided. The authorities did not formally acknowledge the arrests until weeks later, when they responded to media reports by stating that those detained were suspected of involvement in acts of kidnapping and murder that had taken place during the civil war of 1975 to 1990, or in its immediate aftermath. This retrospective prosecution appeared to bepolitically selective. In August 1991, parliament had declared a sweeping amnesty for most civil-war crimes committed before March 28, 1991. Excluded were massacres and assassinations or attempted assassinations of political leaders, religious figures and diplomats. A number of senior officials, including members of the cabinet, had been leaders of militias implicated in such crimes, but had not been investigated.
Despite repeated demands by families of the missing, the government failed to search for those who were kidnapped and subsequently disappeared during the civil war. The number of missing, presumed dead, was estimated officially at about 14,000 persons. The government also failed to investigate vigorously more recent politically motivated abductions. After four months in captivity, Nasri al-Khouri Sader, a lawyer affiliated with an opposition faction, who had been kidnapped with two companions in August 1992, was released at the end of November. Sader's abduction, blamed on individuals affiliated with Hizballa, the pro-Iranian Shi'a party, prompted a lengthy strike by the members of the Lebanese Lawyers Union. Later in the year, one of his companions was found dead in southern Lebanon; the other was missing, as of November 5. Also missing since his abduction in September 1992 is Butrus Khawand, a member of the political bureau of the Lebanese Phalanges Party, a Christian opposition group.
During 1993, a number of judges resigned and others publicly complained about interference with the judiciary. At a press conference in February, Joseph Ghamroun, chief judge of the Criminal Court in the Beqa`, announced his resignation, citing "deteriorating conditions under which judges must work". He referred specifically to executive interference with the judicial process. In March, 150 judges held a secret meeting at the Cassation Court at the Palace of Justice in Beirut, in which the independence of the judiciary was a main point of discussion, according to participants. After the meeting, the judges called for the adoption of a draft law-under consideration for some time-that would establish a clear separation between the executive branch and the judiciary. Despite a promise in March by Prime Minister Hariri to improve matters in the judicial branch so that "the basic rights of the Lebanese as stipulated in the Constitution will be guaranteed," there was no evident improvement.
Revealing a low tolerance threshold for criticism during 1993, the Hrawi government moved forcefully to carry out its previous threats against the media. In moves unprecedented since the civil war, in April and May the government shut down four news organizations and filed criminal charges against four journalists for violating press regulations. ICN, an outspoken television station, was closed down, as was the daily Nida' al-Watan (Call of the Nation)-both owned by Henry Sfair, an independent politician-for reporting an alleged plan by Prime Minister Hariri to "Islamize" Lebanon. Two other dailies, al-Safir (the Ambassador) and al-Sharq (the East), were also closed for publishing material considered offensive to the government. Court injunctions permitted the three newspapers to resume publication temporarily, pending the outcome of the criminal prosecution of their owners and reporters. But the closure of ICN was permanent. Throughout the year, criminal charges were filed against reporters, editors-in-chief, publishers and media owners, for violations of press regulations, including highly restrictive decrees issued without parliamentary approval during the civil war. The government's vigorous prosecution of violators of press laws was not matched by similar zeal in the investigation of attacks on the press, including assassinations and beatings of journalists.
In an attempt to enforce its monopoly over the ownership of television stations, the government threatened to close all forty-five private television stations. The Ministry of Information issued extremely restrictive media guidelines and put a legal and economic squeeze on these stations to drive them out of business, by directing advertising away from them and threatening them with closure and fines. On November 3, a court in Beirut fined al-Mashriq, a private station, $294,000 for infringing on the state's television monopoly. The only licensed station was the Lebanon Television Company (LTV), a company owned jointly by the Lebanese state and Prime Minister Hariri. LTV was granted a monopoly over television broadcasting until 2012.
During the year, the General Directorate of Public Security (GDPS), the national police force,revived its control over all non-periodical publications, including leaflets and press releases. All such publications were required to be submitted to the police for approval before being distributed. Violators were often prosecuted, and some received lengthy prison sentences. The GDPS also resumed prior censorship of books, plays and films. In a further imposition of censorship, in August Michel Samaha, Minister of Information, instructed LTV to submit its news bulletins to him before they were aired.
Freedom of assembly was dealt a severe blow when, on August 11, the Hariri government issued a categorical ban on all demonstrations. Prior to the ban, it had been the practice to grant permits, selectively, to hold demonstrations, albeit under very strict conditions. On September 13, as Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed in Washington an interim self-rule accord for Gaza and Jericho, scores of protestors against the agreement were killed and injured in Beirut and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. In one particularly bloody demonstration called that day in Beirut by Hizballa and other groups opposed to the peace accord, Lebanese army troops killed seven men and one women and injured around forty as they peacefully protested. Consistent reports pointed to the responsibility of senior officials of the government, including the President, the Minister of Defense and the army commander for giving the order to use force to disperse the demonstration.
Under the terms of Syria's September 1991 agreement with Lebanon, Lebanese officials consulted regularly with commanders of Syrian troops in Lebanon over most security matters, whether involving Syrian nationals or others. Officers 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.
The 35,000 Syrian troops still deployed in most of Lebanon were an effective deterrent to the voicing of any criticism of Syria. There was little change in the deployment of troops despite earlier hints that Syrian forces would redeploy outside Greater Beirut, where half the Lebanese population lives, once the parliamentary elections were concluded. Although the elections brought, in October 1992, a largely pro-Syrian parliament, only minor redeployment took place; in the following January, troops were largely removed out of the Southern Suburb (of Beirut) and areas of West Beirut.
Israel and the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanon Army (SLA) were responsible for serious human rights violations in Lebanon during the year. Shelling and air raids by Israel and its allies on southern Lebanon, while ostensibly directed against guerilla bases, produced a heavy toll of civilian casualties. Between July 25 and 31, Israeli shelling of southern towns and villages resulted in several hundred civilian casualties and the flight of hundreds of thousands.
Israel continued to hold an undisclosed number of Lebanese detainees. As of October 31, Middle East Watch learned that at least twelve Lebanese detainees, most believed to belong to Hizballa, were being held in Beer Sheva prison in southern Israel. All were being held in custody beyond the expiration of their court-ordered sentences, in "administrative detention," without charge or trial, under British Mandate-era emergency regulations.
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. In 1993, an estimated 200 detainees were being held in Khiam without charge or trial and without access to family or lawyers. The International Committee of the Red Cross continued to be denied access to these detainees.
Besides the SLA, the Iranian-supported Hizballa was the only other major militia that had not been disarmed by the Lebanese government. It, too, was implicated in a significant number of human rights violations, including abductions and beatings, in 1993. In light of the significant bloc of parliamentarians from Hizballa elected to the new Chamber of Deputies, the government appeared to be less inclined to curb human rights abuses by Hizballa loyalists. Ostensibly aiming to pressure Israel to abandon the Lebanese border area it controls, Hizballa also engaged in 1993 in indiscriminate shelling of northern Israel, causing civilian casualties, in violation of international humanitarian law. Hizballa's attacks on areas of southern Lebanon under SLA control caused extensive damage and casualties among noncombatants.
The Right to Monitor
There was no explicit prohibition against human rights work in Lebanon. However, local human rights groups and individual activists reported that various extralegal methods were used to restrict their freedom of activity in 1993. Security forces and militias employed violent tactics aimed at stifling human rights reporting, including arbitrary arrests and death threats.
While a number of independent groups operated openly, but cautiously, most functioned only clandestinely or abroad. Among the established groups inside Lebanon were, in Beirut, the Lebanese Association for Human Rights, the Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights, and the Lebanese Lawyers Association, especially its Emergency Committee. In Tripoli, the Center for Human Rights operated at al-Jinan University. Outside Lebanon, the Lebanese League for Human Rights was especially active in France and Belgium.
Humanitarian and academic organizations reported regularly on issues related to human rights in Lebanon. Among the Beirut-based groups were the Lebanese NGO Forum and the Movement of the Handicapped & Youth for Human Rights and Peace. The Lebanon Report, published monthly by the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, a research institution in Beirut, provided information related to human rights.
Because of the dangers human rights monitors faced, most local groups avoided issuing public reports about specific abuses, restricting their activities to providing legal assistance to detainees and information to their families and other interested parties.
The United States significantly increased its support for the Lebanese government during 1993 in economic, military and political spheres. In the course of Middle East peace negotiations, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, twice visited Lebanon. In late September, bilateral relations were elevated further when President Bill Clinton met with Prime Minister Hariri in the U.S. American officials appeared concerned primarily with bolstering the Lebanese government and armed forces, and ensuring Lebanon's active participation in the peace process. Regrettably, however, no concern over violations of human rights in Lebanon was voiced publicly by U.S. officials, when the Lebanese government waged a campaign against the press, jailed opponents and banned demonstrations, or when the Lebanese army attacked peaceful demonstrators. The gathering impression about the administration's attitude toward human rights was strengthened when the regional media gave prominence to comments attributed to President Clinton in a telephone conversation he had with President Hafez al-Asad of Syria on September 15; Clinton reportedly asked, in effect, that critics of the recently signed Israel-PLO accord be silenced.
During 1993, the U.S. increased its military assistance to Lebanon and ended an eight-year ban on the provision of lethal equipment. On October 6, Edward P. Djerejian, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, cited military aid as the most important element of U.S. assistance to Lebanon. Less than a month after the Lebanese Army had opened fire, on September 13, on peaceful demonstrators in Beirut, killing eight and injuring dozens, Secretary Djerejian expressed unconditional praise for the army and its commander Gen. Emile Lahoud, and argued for additional military aid.
Economic assistance to Lebanon also increased during 1993. Although U.S. economic aid was relatively small, it had a specially high multiplier effect; Washington persuaded U.S. allies and multilateral institutions to provide record levels of economic aid. President Clinton personally communicated with a number of Arab and European heads of state to encourage their support and assistance to Lebanon. A study published in October by an investment guarantee group revealed that, on a per capita basis, Lebanon became the second-largest recipient of foreign aid in the Middle East, next only to Israel.
In March, partly due to Washington's efforts, the World Bank extended a $175 million loan to Lebanon, its first from the World Bank since 1978. The loan formed part of a $3 billion developmentplan the Lebanese government drew up for the period 1993 to 1996. New funding from elsewhere poured in. In July, Saudi Arabia announced a contribution of $130 million to co-finance eleven projects in Lebanon. Kuwait and Qatar made similar announcements following visits by Prime Minister Hariri during which he requested increased aid to Lebanon. In August, an Arab foreign ministers' meeting approved a $500 million aid package to Lebanon, in part at U.S. urging, according to State Department officials. Italy, France and Germany pledged substantial amounts of aid to Lebanon.
U.S. and allies' expressions of support for the Lebanese government were not accompanied by public concern over the serious human rights violations committed by the Hrawi/Hariri government, including the unprecedented attacks on freedom of the press and the death of peaceful demonstrators.
On September 15, two days after the bloody confrontation in Beirut and other protests in neighboring countries, President Clinton called President Asad of Syria to solicit his support for the Gaza-Jericho accord. Clinton asked Asad to silence Palestinians critics who were attacking the peace agreement. Absent public clarification of the President's remarks, which were widely reported in the front pages of Middle Eastern newspapers, an impression was strengthened in the region that the U.S. subordinated human rights, including the right of peaceful dissent, to other foreign policy considerations.
Critics of the Israel-PLO agreement voiced their conviction that President Clinton's September 15 phone call to President Asad was aimed at silencing those in Lebanon, and elsewhere, opposed to the Palestinian limited self-rule accord.
The Work of Middle East Watch
There were two points of special focus to Middle East Watch's work during 1993: Lebanese government attacks on the freedom of press and assembly, and the Israeli government's actions involving Lebanon.
In July, Middle East Watch issued a forty-eight-page report titled, "Lebanon's Lively Press Faces Worst Crackdown Since 1976," on the closure of news organizations and the restoration of strict censorship of the press, radio, television and all forms of political, cultural and artistic expression. The report concluded that the restrictive measures against the press were taken to safeguard the immediate interests of President Hrawi and Prime Minister Hariri and the policies of their government, and to shield the interests of Syria and Saudi Arabia, Lebanon's closest allies. Following the publication of the report, Middle East Watch coordinated a vigorous campaign involving several advocacy groups to draw attention to this unprecedented attack on the press and to call on the Lebanese government to end its crackdown. In September, it broadened this theme through a sixteen-page report on the government ban on demonstrations and the forcible dispersion of peaceful protests.
Following Israel's expulsion on December 17, 1992, of 413 Palestinians to Lebanon, Middle East Watch sent a mission to the region. After investigating the conditions under which the deportees were living in southern Lebanon, it held a press conference, on January 12, in Jerusalem to publicize its findings. While laying the primary responsibility for the deportees' plight on Israel, Middle East Watch criticized the Lebanese government for its failure to permit humanitarian assistance to reach them and for its denial of access by the ICRC. In a number of subsequent statements, Middle East Watch demanded that the U.S. take a leading role in urging Israel to repatriate the deportees, but its efforts to meet with U.S. officials to discuss their plight were unsuccessful. In August, Middle East Watch issued an updated report on the deportees' conditions.
The July fighting in Lebanon between Israel and Hizballa prompted Middle East Watch to issue press statements expressing concern over the apparent indiscriminate attacks by both sides on civilians. In October, Middle East Watch and the Arms Project, another division of Human Rights Watch, sent a mission to Lebanon to investigate possible violations of the rules of war. A report on the subject was scheduled for January 1994 release, after the completion of a November 1993 mission to Israel, to gather information from official and private sources.