(Beirut, November 5, 2008) - Lebanon should take concrete and public measures to stop the use of torture in detention facilities and submit a long-overdue report on the subject to the United Nations, a group of eight Lebanese and international human rights organizations said today.
Lebanon ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2000, but it has yet to submit a report that was due seven years ago - on November 4, 2001 - about the measures it is taking to comply. Torture and ill-treatment remain a serious problem in Lebanese detention facilities.
"It is not enough to sign conventions," the human rights groups said in a joint statement. "The government needs to comply with them."
In addition to the initial report, the convention requires countries to submit additional reports every four years so that progress can be assessed. But Lebanon has not submitted any reports.
Over the last two years, Lebanese and international human rights groups have gathered testimony from a number of detainees who claimed that Lebanese security officials beat and tortured them at the Military Intelligence unit of the Ministry of Defense, the Information Branch of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), the Drug Repression Bureau detention facilities in Beirut and Zahle, as well as in certain police stations.
The number of reports of alleged torture increased substantially during the 2007 Nahr al-Bared battle between the armed Fatah al-Islam group and the Lebanese army, with more than 200 individuals telling human rights groups that members of the Lebanese army beat or tortured them.
Despite these numerous allegations, the judiciary rarely investigates torture claims, and accountability for torture in detention remains elusive. The governmental response has included certain positive steps, such as training police officers and prison guards in human rights issues as well as giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to all detention facilities.
But the government has failed to address the broader issues of lack of investigations and impunity for violations committed against detainees. In a rare and limited step, the minister of interior asked the General Inspectorate on August 6, 2008, to investigate a number of allegations of ill-treatment and torture that had been aired in the Lebanese media. To date, the outcome of the investigation remains unknown.
"While we welcome any step by the authorities to combat torture, the steps taken to date have been insufficient and very limited," the human rights groups said. "It is not enough to train officers in human rights standards; those who commit torture should pay for their crimes."
As a party to the Convention against Torture, Lebanon is obligated to "ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed." Lebanese authorities must also ensure that anyone who alleges having been subject to torture "has the right to complain to, and to have his case promptly and impartially examined by, its competent authorities."
While Article 401 of the Lebanese Penal Code stipulates that anyone who "severely beats someone with the intention of obtaining a confession about a crime or information will be imprisoned from three months to three years," the enforcement of this provision is almost non-existent. The human rights groups said that, notwithstanding numerous torture allegations, they were aware of only one case in the last two years in which a police officer was convicted on charges related to beating a suspect during interrogation. However, the police officer received a reduced sentence of 15 days in jail and a US$200 fine.
In addition, Article 401 of the Lebanese Penal Code falls short of meeting Lebanon's obligations under the Convention against Torture as it does not apply to non-physical forms of torture, such as mental or psychological torture, and does not cover situations where the torture is used for objectives other than obtaining confessions. Also, the penalty it prescribes - a maximum of three years in jail - does not reflect the internationally-recognized "grave nature" of torture.
To ensure Lebanon's compliance with the Convention against Torture, the human rights groups said, the following actions should be taken:
The government should:
- Urgently submit its required initial report to the UN Committee against Torture;
- Develop a national plan to ensure that the prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment is fully enforced and respected in practice;
The judiciary should:
- Investigate cases of ill-treatment and torture;
- Reject all evidence obtained by coercive means;
- Amend Article 401 of the Penal Code to criminalize all forms of torture, not just physical violence, regardless of the objective of such torture, and to make the crime of torture punishable by a heavier sentence that the current maximum of three years.
The eight groups that issued the statement are: Al-Karama; Association Libanaise des Droits de l'Homme (ALDHOM); Association Libanaise pour l'Education et la Formation (ALEF); Frontiers (Ruwad); Human Rights Watch; Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture; Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH); and Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PINACLE).
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