Lebanon: Commitment Needed to Tackle Torture

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Ziad Itani, a Lebanese actor, who was exonerated of spying for Israel, is carried after he was released by Lebanese authorities. Itani has accused security officials of torturing him and has called on authorities to investigate.

© 2018 AP Photo/Hussein Malla

(Beirut) – The Lebanese authorities should effectively protect everyone, including people in detention, from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, 15 organizations said today in a joint statement on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. The authorities should also investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment and hold accountable members of the security forces responsible for such abuse.

“Despite an improvement to Lebanon’s anti-torture framework on paper, torture remains prevalent, and accountability for torture and ill-treatment is elusive,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Lebanon needs to show that it is serious about combatting torture, and it should start by moving forward the many torture complaints that have been languishing before the judiciary without effective investigations.”

In 2017, the Lebanese parliament passed a law criminalizing torture, and in July 2019 the government appointed the five members of the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture (NPM).

The government has not yet allocated a budget to allow the unit to fulfill its mandate. Torture remains prevalent, and complaints regarding torture and other ill-treatment filed under the 2017 law rarely reach court and most are closed without an effective investigation.

The anti-torture law itself fails to meet Lebanon’s obligations under the United Nations Convention against Torture. The law adopts a statute of limitations of 3 to 10 years for prosecuting torture that begins to run upon the victim’s release from custody or detention, in contravention of international standards, which hold that there should be no statute of limitations for torture. The criminal sentences imposed under the law do not adequately reflect the grave nature of the crime of torture.

The law also fails to criminalize cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, which are prohibited under the Convention against Torture. And it does not explicitly prohibit referring torture complaints to the military courts, which human rights organizations have found do not respect the right to a fair trial and lack independence. 

Further, human rights organizations in Lebanon have documented repeated failures of the security forces and judiciary to implement the anti-torture law and the provisions of the code of criminal procedure that aim to protect the rights of detainees.

In 2019, Hassan al-Dika died in custody. A Human Rights Watch investigation into his death found that the judicial authorities failed to adequately investigate his serious torture allegations prior to his death and violated the provisions of the anti-torture law by tasking the same security agency that he accused of torturing him with investigating his allegations. Similarly, the criminal justice authorities have yet to take any serious action to investigate the credible allegations of torture and enforced disappearance that the actor Ziad Itani – accused but later exonerated of spying for Israel – has made against State Security. 

“The Lebanese authorities should promptly and impartially investigate all complaints of torture, allocate a sufficient budget to allow the torture prevention unit to get to work, and bring the anti-torture law in line with international standards,” Majzoub said.

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