An unknown number of Lebanese citizens and stateless Palestinians are imprisoned in Syria: some of them "disappeared"1 in Lebanon as long ago as the 1980s. In two cases documented by Human Rights Watch, Palestinian families have learned only recently, through information brought to them by released prisoners, that their loved ones - "disappeared" in 1984 and 1987, respectively - may still be alive and in Syrian custody. The problem, unfortunately, not only involves past abuses but also extends to current practice. Lebanese citizens and stateless Palestinians continue to "disappear" in Lebanon, taken into custody there by Syrian security forces and then transferred to and detained in Syria, perpetuating a climate of fear. This report includes detailed information about three "disappearances" that occurred in 1997, between January and March, one that took place in July 1996, and another that dates back to September 1992. The report also includes information about "disappearances" of Palestinian residents of Beirut and Tripoli in 1995 and 1996, and testimony from Lebanese and Palestinians who were "disappeared" at various times between the mid-1970s through late 1993.
The seizures of these individuals take place outside the law. As the Beirut Bar Association reported to the U.N. Human Rights Committee in April 1997, "no existing legislation or bilateral treaty allows such conduct." Moreover, victims do not benefit from the protection of the law. There are no effective official government mechanisms - in Lebanon or in Syria - for families to learn of the whereabouts of their relatives and to seek legal remedy. Human Rights Watch has also obtained first-hand testimony indicating that Syrian intelligence forces have detained some Lebanese and held them incommunicado - in Syrian detention facilities in Lebanon, and in Syria - in order to pressure them to collaborate with Syrian intelligence in Lebanon.
Syrian troops first entered Lebanon in large numbers in June 1976, the second year of the country's civil war. The Syrian military presence was formalized pursuant to decisions taken at the Arab League summit that was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in October 1976. The summit led to the creation of an Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) that was to enforce a ceasefire and separate the warring sides. Although the ADF would include small numbers of troops from other Arab states, the bulk of the forces were Syrian and under Syrian military command. Syria's significant interference with Lebanese civil society, including the press, followed, as we described in a 1991 report:
Late that year, the Syrian army occupied and closed down seven newspapers and one magazine in West Beirut, including Lebanon's most famous newspaper al-Nahar, as well as L'Orient Le Jour, al-Safir, and al-Muharrir. Only three pro-Syrian newspapers remained....Syrian forces also arrested several journalists, including al-Safir editors Muhammad Mashmushi and Tawfiq Sardawi, both critics of Syrian intervention. They were subsequently imprisoned in Damascus. After a major protest campaign, the Syrians withdrew from the occupied publications, and two months later they released Mashmushi and Sardawi. But al-Safir and other newspapers got the message; only rarely since then have they printed items that would seriously displease the Syrian regime.2
Twenty-one years later, an estimated 30,000 Syrian troops remain in Lebanon, as well as an undisclosed number of intelligence officers and other operatives. Syrian intelligence forces are known to maintain detention facilities in at least five locations inside Lebanon: in Tripoli in the north; in west Beirut at the headquarters of Syrian intelligence on Sadat Street, near the Beau Rivage Hotel in the Ramlet al-Baida neighborhood, an area also known
as Beau Rivage; in Chtoura in the Beqaa' valley; and in `Anjar, east of the Beirut-Damascus highway, near the Lebanese-Syria border. There is also a detention facility in Hazmiyeh, on the outskirts of Beirut, where a joint Syrian-Lebanese intelligence force reportedly is based. This report includes information about and testimony from Lebanese and stateless Palestinians who have been detained at these facilities.
Close Syrian-Lebanese bilateral relations were formally cemented by the May 1991 Treaty of Fraternity, Cooperation and Coordination, which established joint councils to coordinate decision-making and activities related to foreign affairs, economic and social affairs, and defense and security affairs. The Defense and Security Affairs Committee created pursuant to the treaty is composed of the defense and interior ministers of both countries. According to the terms of the treaty, the committee is responsible for "studying the adequate measures needed to safeguard the two countries' security and for suggesting joint measures to confront any aggression or threat endangering their national security or any unrest that may disturb their internal security." For Lebanese Muslims and Christians alike, the phenomenon of "disappearances" is one manifestation of what many of them view as de facto Syrian control - or "annexation" or "occupation," as they variously describe it - of their country. A prominent Shi'i lawyer, who requested anonymity, put it this way in an interview with Human Rights Watch in August 1995:
No one in Lebanon will talk about the reality. Our government is not a government. Syrian intelligence forces are controlling this country. We are moving toward a police state. Here in Lebanon, there are masters and servants. Lebanese government officials are the servants of Syria.
Indeed, public discussion of "disappearances" is largely taboo in Lebanon, and efforts to address the problem generally, or individual cases specifically, are not undertaken. Families of the "disappeared" typically are afraid to come forward with information for fear of worsening the situation for their loved ones or putting themselves at risk of harassment or reprisal. They have been unable to secure assistance from Lebanese government officials or Lebanese nongovernmental organizations to obtain information about, access to, or the release of their relatives. The son of one Lebanese who was seized and "disappeared" in the early 1990s, and is believed to be held in Syria, told Human Rights Watch in 1997 that no one in Lebanon, including former colleagues of his father who now serve in high-level government positions, would talk to him about the case. The son said that he met privately with President Elias Hrawi in 1992, who told him "there is nothing that we can do."
Human Rights Watch has written to Lebanese and Syrian government officials four times to express concern, to request information, and to recommend steps to remedy the problem of the continuing "disappearances." These letters - to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in October 1996 and March 1997, and to Syrian President Hafez al-Asad in November 1996 and March 1997 - have gone unanswered, and persons continue to be detained and "disappeared" on Lebanese soil. Families continue to wait for news, and official confirmation, that their relatives are dead or alive. To end this agony for the families, Human Rights Watch urged President Asad in November 1996 to disclose fully the names and other information about non-Syrians held in Syrian custody in Lebanon and Syria. We received no reply to our letter.
The Lebanese government clearly has ceded certain police powers to Syrian intelligence forces inside Lebanon - in practice if not also by secret agreement. By providing an effective guarantee of impunity for human rights abuses under this arrangement, Lebanese authorities must bear a measure of direct responsibility for these abuses. Lebanese complicity in abuses by Syrian forces sometimes goes beyond official acquiescence and becomes direct collaboration with Syrian forces in carrying out reported "disappearances." To end complicity in torture, "disappearance," and other abuses by Syrian forces in Lebanon, it is incumbent upon Lebanese authorities to establish enforceable procedures under which Syrian forces present and operating in Lebanon can be held fully accountable for their actions under both Lebanese and international law. Lebanese authorities should begin to address this problem by ending immediately their silence concerning abuses being committed by Syrian forces on Lebaneseterritory, and by carrying out independent and effective investigations of "disappearances" in such a manner as to bring the perpetrators to justice.
This report focuses only on "disappearances" in Lebanon at the hands of Syrian intelligence forces and their Lebanese accomplices. It does not address the issue of Lebanese citizens who have been seized in Lebanon and transported to Israel, which occupies approximately 10 percent of south Lebanon (850 square kilometers) in a zone that is home to some 150,000 Lebanese. Lebanese citizens imprisoned inside Israel, along with other Arabs and Iranians, is the subject of a separate inquiry by Human Rights Watch/Middle East and a report that we will publish later in 1997. In March 1997, Human Rights Watch presented a written statement to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights which was meeting in its fifty-third session in Geneva. Our statement addressed the problem of "disappearances" of Lebanese citizens and stateless Palestinians in Lebanon by Syrian security forces, as well as Lebanese citizens who are being held in extended periods of detention in Israel, either without charge or trial or long beyond the expiration of their sentences. Human Rights Watch's submission regarding "disappearances" at the hands of Syrian forces is elaborated upon in this report. The part of the statement that addressed Israeli practices is appended to this report.1 The term appears in quotation marks "to emphasize that the victim has in reality not simply vanished. The victim's whereabouts and fate, concealed from the outside world, are known by someone. Someone decided what would happen to the victim; someone decided to conceal it." Amnesty International, "Disappearances" and Political Killings (Amsterdam, Amnesty International Dutch Section: 1994), p. 84. 2 Middle East Watch (now Human Rights Watch/Middle East), Syria Unmasked: The Suppression of Human Rights by the Asad Regime (New Haven and London, Human Rights Watch Books, Yale University Press: 1991), pp. 119-120.