Torture in Lebanon: Between International Conventions and Reality

Ziad Azar

Torture

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Jason Donohue once said, ‘I see humans, but no humanity’. If we take some time to think about it, we can’t but agree with him. What is currently happening around the world is truly devastating: killing, torturing, crimes, abuse, and the list goes on. International conventions frown upon all of this. But, are people really referring to conventions? In Lebanon, in the recent years, Human Rights were and continue to be violated on regular basis. An example of this is torture. What is torture and what is the current situation in our country?

 

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment defines Torture as ‘any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity…’ By referring to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5 clearly states the following: ‘No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. Is this really happening? Can we apply this on the current events in Lebanon?

 

Torture takes many forms. Sadly enough, it has become a regular way to deal with many people, including non-Lebanese as well. Perhaps, over the years and with all the terror surrounding us wherever we go, we have become desensitized and accustomed to the idea of torture. Many examples can be given in our society.

 

The case of detainees

 

Torture and the case of detainees are probably very interrelated. People often start debates about this. Some would say that even if a person is detained, s/he should be treated in a “good manner”. This includes the right for food, visits and consultation with his/her lawyer. For the past two months, protests have been happening in Lebanon. Without going into details or taking sides regarding the situation, many protesters or ‘activists’ ended up being detained without a logical reason. Once out, the detainees told the media that some were tortured and beaten up inside the prison, with the absence of their right to consult a lawyer. Furthermore, parents who were able to visit their detained children explained to the media the devastating situation in prisons. The case is definitely not generalized because in many prisons, detainees are treated in a good manner. For example, they are treated with respect and dignity and are given the right to talk to a lawyer or see their parents.

 

CLDH (The Lebanese Center for Human Rights), a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization based in Beirut, interviewed 44 women arrested between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014, in order to understand and evaluate the situation these women face inside the prison. The results of this research were devastating: 24 out of 44 women had been subjected to physical and psychological torture. The research, published in a report in April 2015, explains that ‘in 76% of the documented cases, the Internal Security Forces and police stations would be responsible for torture. Several women alleged having been subjected to torture by men in civilian clothes from the army or the police intelligence services, or by militia men outside the official places of interrogation.’ Moreover, a video went viral on social media outlets in June 2015 revealing footages of detainees being beaten up inside Roumieh prison. Is it acceptable to treat detainees in such ways? How can laws and regulations be applied inside the prisons?

 

The case of LGBTQ

 

The LGBTQ community is exposed to torture on regular basis. There are many cases where police officers end up beating homosexuals for the sake of getting more information regarding places they go to or people they meet. In an incident that occurred early July 2015, L’orient le Jour discussed the case of Omar and Samer who were stopped at a checkpoint and taken to a police station in South Lebanon because one officer found ‘half a gram of weed’ with Samer. The two men performed a drug test that turned out negative. However, one of the officers checked Samer’s phone and found a contact by the name of ‘Habibi’. As so, officers accused both men of being homosexuals. According to BlogBaladi, Officers ‘started beating Omar violently and torturing him by putting his head back and forth in cold water. Samer got his share of the torture and both were even electrocuted and forced to spill out names of homosexuals and drug dealers in Lebanon’. They both spent 6 days in prison and were tortured on daily basis to reveal names and places. Having weed is definitely wrong. However, badly treating individuals accused of being homosexuals after a negative drug test is even more wrong. Again, how can laws be applied inside police stations? Who can supervise and inspect what is happening in such places? In addition, we can’t but stress the issue of ‘anal tests’ performed on individuals suspected of being homosexuals. These tests are considered, by many, a form of torture and rape.

 

The case of domestic workers

 

Stories of domestic workers who are exposed to torture in Lebanon are endless. When they are accused of stealing something from the house they work in, they are directly taken to the nearest police station for further investigation. This is the regular procedure that any individual does once faced with a similar situation. But, what happens inside the station is something the human mind can’t and shouldn’t accept. Sadly, domestic workers are heavily tortured and physically abused until they tell the truth. Sometimes, they admit of things they did not do in the first place just so they stop torturing them. This definitely doesn’t happen in all police stations. However, it is the common case. Officers often ‘brag’ as well about how much they have beaten up a worker for him/her to tell the truth of something s/he did. For example, stealing.

 

The case of protesters

 

Two months ago, protests started to reoccur in the country. Many were peaceful ones, located in Martyrs Square or Riad al Soloh, Beirut. Despite the fact that it was peaceful, Security Forces and Police Officers have beaten up activists and many were severely injured. I am definitely not taking sides. After all, officers were following orders and were doing what they were told. However, I am stressing on the barbaric and cruel response the protesters were exposed to. Is this really the correct way to deal with peaceful protests?

 

Conclusion

 

Torture is a definite human rights violation. In many countries around the world, the statistics can be frightening. A Study on torture in Lebanon was conducted in 2014 by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as a part of the U.N. Committee against Torture’s (CAT) annual report. It says ‘Torture in Lebanon is a pervasive practice that is routinely used by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies’, the law enforcement agencies that are the ones who should implement laws in the first place.

 

As mentioned above, there are many types of torture. Other than the ones listed in the first section, we add the following: torture in schools, torture towards Syrian refugees, torture against women and many more. The consequences of such are immense, and truly heartbreaking.

 

In Lebanon, and with a relatively increase rate in torture, many organizations and/or associations have taken the initiative to deal with such cases. Restart Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture works in this domain. The center offers services to assess the situation of each individual who has been exposed to torture and provides the needed help. Moreover, it makes sure that laws and legal frameworks are enforced. In addition, Centre Nassim for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Torture, a project created by the SOLIDA movement (Support of Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) and CLDH, works with victims of torture. The center’s main objective is to facilitate the rehabilitation and the social reintegration of victims of torture living in Beirut and in Lebanon. Dealing with such cases can be relatively hard in a small society like ours.

 

In a Utopian society, there will be no torture. In reality, torture exists. In Lebanon, what is needed is an implementation of laws and regulations to prevent it, or at least punish people who use this way to deal with others. Both the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior should join their efforts in order to implement all the needed laws. In prisons, a strategic plan is necessary to make sure that basic human rights are not violated. After all, detainees are humans and should be treated based on that concept. But, the question remains: if laws and regulations were perfectly applied, will it be enough? Can we obey rules or should each individual’s personal conscience interfere with his/her work? Shouldn’t we stop considering torture a way to express or to reach something? In a cruel world with many unfortunate accidents, the question has no clear answer. 

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