Discussion marking summary on the International Day In Support of Victims of Torture

July 2, 2020, at 5:00 PM Beirut time 

Introduction 

Marking the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Tripoli’s Bar Association and Access Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) organized a webinar session to discuss the issue of torture and ill-treatment in Lebanese’ detention centres and prisons, the risks of forced deportation of the refugees, and the role of the Lebanese State in the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT).

Subjects: 

Introduction about the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

International laws which Lebanon is committed thereto, the experience of Tripoli’s Bar Association in regards with the torture issue. 

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report which was submitted by the Tripoli Bar Association; the focus on what was mentioned on the section of torture, the important recommendations, the testimonies and the role of the Lebanese state to implement the CAT. 

Torture and the risks of the forced deportation on Syrian refugees in Lebanon, summary of the report, files documentation. 

Impact of the non-compliance of the Lebanese state to the international laws and conventions, work mechanisms, Lebanon responsibilities towards the international commitments. 

Comments and questions of the attendees.  

Moderator:

Mohammad HASAN, founder and director of Access Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) 

Speakers:

Mr. Mohammad MURAD, Head of the North Lebanon Bar Association, Appeals Lawyer

Mr. Ghassan MUKHAYBER – Lawyer and former member in the Lebanese Parliament 

Ms. Diala CHEHADEH – Lawyer and expert in the international criminal law 

Mr. Mohamed SABLOUH – Lawyer and the rapporteur in the Prison Committee in Tripoli’s Bar Association 

Mr. Mohamed HASSAN, Founder and director of Access Center for Human Rights 

Minutes of the session were written by: Work team of Access Centre for Human Rights 

To watch the session click on:

The session was made in Arabic 

Bios of the speakers 

Mr. Mohamed EL-MURAD: 

He is the Head of the North Lebanon Bar Association and an appeals Lawyer. More than fifty lawyers have undertaken their trainings in his office. He worked on more than 4000 cases. He was elected as Head of the Supervisory and Regulatory Authority in Future Movement since 2016; he is as well a member in the Supreme Islamic Sharia Council representing Akkar since 2015, Head of Appeals and Disciplinary Committee in the Supreme Islamic Sharia Council. He took part in the preparation of many draft laws and decrees to develop Dar Al-Fatwa institutions. He is a founding member in the Young Lawyers Forum in Arab Lawyers Association, member in Arbitration Centre in London and the International Bar Association in London, founding member and an elector in London Arbitration Centre in Beirut. He participated in many seminars, conferences and arbitration workshops in the headquarters of Tripoli Bar Association.  

Mr. Ghassan MUKHAYBER

He is lawyer and a former member in the Lebanese parliament. He was the rapporteur of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, member in the Administration and Justice Committee within the Environment Committee, member in many international parliamentary organizations dealing with fighting corruption, enhancing freedoms and rule of law, development and orthodoxy. He obtained a BA in Laws from University of Saint Joseph and Masters in Laws from Harvard University in the United States. He worked since a long time with the Lebanese civil society to enhance human rights, democracy, fighting corruption and conflict resolution. Moreover, he is a university professor and he has published many materials discussing the abovementioned issues.

Ms. Diala CHEHADEH 

She is a Lebanese lawyer and expert in the international criminal law. She was the spokeswoman and the responsible of the legal awareness in the Arab region before the International Penal Court for many years. She worked in the media and local and international press between 2003 and 2009. She presented trainings at the local and regional level in the international criminal law, transitional justice, and international human law. She founded many non-governmental associations in Lebanon and Holland, and she was well known for her interest in many Lebanese cases related to torture, human rights, violations against marginalized categories and Syrian refugees in Lebanon. 

Mr. Mohamed SABLOUH 

He is a lawyer and the rapporteur of the Prisons Committee in Tripoli’s Bar Association. He is a human rights activist; he filed many lawsuits before the special reporters and the UN committee against Torture. He took part in the preparation and implementation of plans to resolve the problems of the Lebanese prisons and to reduce the numbers of prisoners imprisoned in the same room during this pandemic crisis. Mr. SABLOUH took part in many conferences and workshops to discuss the implementation of the Convention against Torture in Lebanon and the response of the Lebanese authorities when laws should be amended in conformity with the convention such as Tripoli’s Bar Association in the parliamentary human rights committees. 

Mr. Mohammad HASAN

He is the founder and director of Access Centre for Human Rights (ACHR). He is a Syrian journalist residing in Paris. He was since 2014 an activist who stands up for the Syrian refugees cases in Lebanon. He took part in the establishment of many voluntary and relief initiatives in many Lebanese regions. He organized many campaigns to support political and human rights cases in Lebanon and Syria between 2014 and 2017. He also participated in many studies and researches about Syrian refugees human rights. 

 

Summary of the session that started at 5:17 PM and was closed at 7:00 PM

Moderator: Mohammad HASAN
For the first time, Tripoli Bar Association has submitted a UPR report to the UN Human Rights Council, what did it present while following up the torture issue during the past years? 

Mr. Mohamed EL-MURAD

Violations have marked the way Lebanon was dealing with this issue. Even though, Lebanon is a founding member of the United Nations important steps shall be taken, activated and developed at the legislative, practical and applied levels. Thereby, Tripoli’s Bar Association has decided to submit its own report within the UPR to be advanced and gathering actions related to human being including the torture issue. Whether at the legislative level and the international conventions especially CAT that Lebanon has signed in 2000 without making any progress in this regard. In fact, Lebanon passed through a great struggle from 2000 to 2017 until Law No. 65 was adopted which criminalizes torture. However, torture was used throughout the years until it becomes like a routine practice, as evidence, the Prisons Committee has documented lately many torture cases committed by the judiciary police that led sometimes to death during the arrest. 

Tripoli’s Bar Association decided to deal accurately and bravely with this topic at the legislative, legal, security, judicial levels and at the Bar Association and other rights establishments levels; especially that the Bar organizes conferences discussing torture and cooperates with other organizations in this regard. 

However, Law no. 65 needs legislative amendments; we think that this law doesn’t meet our ambition. Actually, although this law was issued since three years but it has not take effect yet in one way or another. The review focused on this point and we have recommended amending the definition of the torture crime to fit the CAT. Thus, we must urge the parliament, the cabinet and the relevant ministries to activate the Law No. 65/2017 (law on the criminalization of torture).  

Moderator: do you think that the Bar Association can play a role in making pressure on the Lebanese authorities to enforce local and international laws? Many clauses set forth in the local laws have not taken effect and since Lebanon is a founding member in the United Nations that does not enforce international laws, don’t you think that it must enforce local laws as a first step than abide to international conventions and enforce them?

Mr. Mohamed EL-MURAD

Going from its responsibility, the Bar Association shall encourage the Lebanese authorities to enforce local and international laws. Therefore, in 2019 the prisons committee held a press conference during which we showed the torture cases and we presented clear recommendations at the legal and governmental levels. We followed up the implementation of the law and raised the voice whenever violation occurred. In 2020, we escalated by presenting a video showing the torture a detainee was subject to. To go further, the review sets the tracks and recommendations in order to change the culture leading to the replacement of these systematic and traditional practices used during investigations with technological methods. 

The Bar Association adopted human rights as a methodology during the 2019-2020 protests to protect protestors and during Covid-19 crisis. Tripoli and Beirut Bar Associations worked jointly and tried to enforce implementation Article 108 of the Criminal Proceedings Code. In order to release detainees and we have really released 700 detainees in North Lebanon and documented the conditions of prisons and prisoners.   

Moderator: according to international law, torture is a crime. You have followed up many individual cases, Ersal case in 2017, and forced deportation cases that may have led to torture and the Supreme Defense Council decision that allows this violation. Article 3 (1) of the Anti-torture convention prevents the expulsion or the handover of any person to any state if proven that person might be subjected to torture, however the Supreme Defense Council decision contradicts this law although Lebanon has signed this convention and is a member in the UN. What do you think Ms. CHEHADEH in this regard? 

Ms. Diala CHEHADEH 

Torture is a systematic policy the judiciary police use crossing its powers in the light of the silence of judiciary system and public prosecutions. And through giving resonant excuses such as accusing of terrorism a Lebanese or a Syrian who possesses an illegal weapon or who is suspected of engaging in illegal activities. Torture was also committed against detainees and even the journalists who did not take part in the armed conflict but supported the moderate Syrian opposition; were suspected of engaging in security issues in the cadre of security crimes and even other kind of crimes such as drugs. 

Systematic beating and torture is used by every investigation body including ISF information technology department, general security department and Lebanese army. Also lately, a certain torture protocol was set such as arresting detainees “from two to six days” or “the torture by electricity”. 

During the last year, since the beginning of the revolution, people who were not aware of the torture have noticed the humiliation Lebanese were subject to during protests. Torture is used against protestors and not only against criminals or terrorists. Moreover, a year ago some militaries were tortured for drug use.   

Today, Syrians are forced to leave the Lebanese territories according to an unexplained decision made by the Supreme Defense Council which missions and powers are restricted to national defense, therefore the legacy of this decision was put under suspicion. Syrians who are forced to leave don’t have the chance to prove that their lives may be in danger if deported. After reaching the Syrian territories many persons have been tortured as documented, noting that their lawyers are not allowed to talk to them during the arrest. 

In 2017, more than 10 Syrians have passed away due to torture (in my opinion) after Lebanon’s army has arrested and hit around 400 Syrians in raids on refugees camps although we have tried to take judiciary actions but they urge to sue me and to deprive me from the advocate’s immunity which was refused by the bar association for the lack of violation evidence. Since that time, judiciary system didn’t make any progress and didn’t allow lawyers to get a copy of the report proving the torture.

 

Moderator: You have drafted law No. 65/ 2017, how many torture cases have been followed up after this law was issued? 

Mr. Ghassan MOUKHAYBER

Torture is committed in Lebanon a long time ago, what is important now is what should we do to stop this crime? Some laws should be directly applied, for example according to law no administrative or judicial body has the right to expulse any person who fears torture in the country where he is going. Lebanese courts have issued many judgments which prevent the deportation of persons who fear torture. So, the problem in Lebanon does not arise from the law but from the application mechanism, noting that Lebanon respects in this regard the international conventions but the legislator who sets Law no 65, the Lebanese Penal Code and the Criminal Procedures Code knows very well that many obstacles hinder the enforcement. Law no. 65 was an amendment of the penal code and the criminal procedures code thus the application thereof shall be done in the light of the other laws. 

In addition, there is the law according to which the National Human Rights Institution has been established with full power to uncover the violations, and this authority has made till now good efforts. If we want to check the legislative system we have to exert some pressure to activate this authority which has good powers such as sudden visits to arrest and detention centers. 

We have a problem with the judiciary system and the law enforcement. Law no. 65/ 2017 does not give any power to military courts; at the contrary it has prevented these courts from any power in any issue related to torture. However, mistakes are still occurring and the military court is still dealing with torture cases. On the other hand, many associations criticize by mistake this law for granting powers to the military court. Since the issuance of the Law no. 65/ 2017, only two lawsuits have been filed before the non-military justice courts to apply it, one of them is filed by the father of a victim who passed away due to torture and the second by one of the torture victims. In both cases, the court denied the powers of the military courts and granted them to the justice courts.  

Moderator: the Bar Association has documented 34 torture cases, are there any other testimonies and cases similar to the video the Bar Association posted on Facebook? 

Mr. Mohamed SABLOUH: 

I would like to add concerning the National Human Rights Institution Mr. Ghassan MOUKHAYBER has mentioned that Lebanon has tried to abolish it pretending the lack of funds. Due to the pressure exerted by the human rights organizations the members of this authority have been officially appointed but it remains inactive since the Lebanese government did not set a budget, thus we have to exert pressure on the government to activate the national institution and facilitate the work thereof.   

Actually, even if we have shed light on the defect of the human rights violations and especially on the torture crime, we found that security officers are adopting a wrong culture preventing them from holding any security member accountable for torturing detainees which proves that officers are committing mistakes because they did not put red lines that guarantee the dignity of detainees and punish the members who cross them. 

Due to internal and international pressure, Law No. 65/ 2017 has been applied in two cases which investigations are still going on. Personally, I have filed many lawsuits before the cassation public prosecution according to Law No. 65/ 2017 but the cassation public prosecutor who has the power to apply this law violated the law and referred them to the military court, the latter kept the lawsuit without investigation or took revenge from the victim by fabricating against him other case. Cases in this regard are numerous and we have documented new 34 cases where Law no. 65 was not applied. I remember that I claimed the appointment of a forensic physician to examine the victim as Law No. 65/ 2017 stipulates thereupon within 24 hours but the judge appointed him after 30 days.

The problem does not arise from the law but from the wrong culture; the security and judiciary systems are adopting that considering the torture is the best way to oblige the detainees to confess committing a crime without taking into consideration how much torture could harm victims and their families. Thus, we have to change this culture and adopt a new one that respects the humanity of the detainees. Lebanon has signed the Anti-torture convention in 2000 and issued a law against torture in 2017 due to an international pressure seeing that the Lebanese legislator has adopted this law and a copy thereof was sent to the UN Human Rights Council three years ago, but the competent bodies didn’t put it into effect till now. Lebanon is at the top of the Arabic countries that are ready for a change but we want to keep this law inactive, at the contrary we should enforce it and show readiness to cooperate with local and international bodies in this regard.     

Recommendations

Mr. Ghassan MOUKHAYBER

To focus on the importance of the awareness in regards with the laws and the implementation thereof especially that judiciary police, organizations and judiciary system mistaken the powers of the military court. 

To use media to change years of practices 

Although there is a foreign supervision, focus should be on the implementation of the law in Lebanon. 

We are only focusing on the violations of the Law No. 65 while there are many other laws that should be enforced such as the criminal procedures laws which need to be observed especially the presence of the lawyer during the first investigations. 

Joint efforts should be exerted not only to enforce law but also to enhance internal mechanisms and international reports.  

Ms. Diala CHEHADEH 

Victims and detainees shall be aware of the different lawsuit procedures. We don’t exaggerate when we say that only two torture victims, whether they were innocent or not, who dare to file lawsuits. In fact victims prefer not to do so because they fear revenge or torture or any other damage against themselves or any member of their family. Awareness is very necessary. Success of one or two cases may encourage others to sue those who tortured them. Media plays an important role to spread awareness and break the silence. 

Mr. Mohamed EL-MURAD

We need a multi-task work team to sue and follow up any person who commits a torture crime. Where from we should start? Bar Association does not hold alone the responsibility, we made the first step by uncovering what is going on during investigations but we need a huge pressure to reach our goals through coordination with media to attract public attention. 

Judiciary system, defense system including the army and the ministry of justice are all liable and we have to exert pressure on the government through human rights MPs (holding a BA in Law and members in the Bar Association). These MPs have to exert good pressure on the cabinet to enforce laws and to hold the cabinet accountable when law is violated. Competent minister shall be investigated and held accountable when necessary.  

Mr. Mohamed SABLOUH 

Some judges have no idea about the anti-torture convention. I had many cases before many courts and I asked for the implementation of anti-torture convention and I was surprised to know that the judge has no idea about it! Judicial and security mistakes shall be corrected before amending laws. Ministry of Justice has to organize training for judges about the anti-torture conventions, the mechanisms of the implementation thereof and the laws related thereto. Security leadership shall train the security members how to implement Lebanese law and international conventions to respect human dignity and protect detainees from torture.  

Closing statements: 

Ms. Diala CHEHADEH

A long fight is still waiting us. We need to be persistent and to exert huge efforts because it is difficult to change a methodology that comes back to the period before the Syrian regime. Laws must be implemented and first investigations must be recorded to document torture (voices and photos) so detainees and lawyers can obtain a copy that proves that no criminal procedures code was violated. As for holding every member accountable for torturing detainees, teamwork including many lawyers shall be formed because following up torture cases needs more than one lawyer to keep our strength amid the bad security and political conditions Lebanon is witnessing. 

Mr. Mohamed EL-MURAD

We have to coordinate and cooperate because this job needs a high level of cooperation. One lawyer and even ten lawyers can’t do this job, thus we recommend forming a work team that includes members from Tripoli’s Bar Association and from Beirut’s Bar Association to form an important internal strength that could exert good pressure when necessary. 

Moderator: Recommendations of the speakers at the end of the session 

Parliament should: 

Amend the torture criminalization law no. 65/ 2017 to fit with anti-torture convention 

Amend article 47 of the criminal procedures code  to guarantee the right of the lawyer to attend the first investigations 

Hold the executive authority accountable for neglecting the implementation of the applicable laws such as Law No. 65/ 2017 

Within the Judiciary system and security bodies:

Educative and awareness campaigns should be organized to prove to judges and security bodies the importance of the implementation of Anti-torture convention and the relevant laws such as Law No 65/ 2017 and encourage the cassation public prosecution to issue a circular on this regard. 

Cassation public prosecutor shall put into force article 15 of the criminal procedures code and thus take sincere actions when evidences that prove the torture are available and refer the case to the civil courts and not to the military courts. 

Criminal Procedures Code shall be fully enforced and deadlines must be respected especially in relation with the duration of arrest and the guarantees presented to the detainees. 

Necessary actions must be taken to raise awareness about the investigations and punishment tools. 

First investigations shall be recorded to guarantee the right of the victim and the lawyer to obtain a copy thereof. 

The government should: 

Specify a good budget to the National Human Rights Institution to help it playing efficiently its role

Implement the laws issued by the parliament and supervise the implementation mechanisms and punish the violators.  

Civil society, Tripoli and Beirut’s Bar Associations and interested parties working in the human rights fields have to:  

Unify efforts, activate supervision and examine cases where anti-torture law is violated to exert pressure on the government and the parliament. 

Enhance public awareness and shed light on the importance of Law No. 65/ 2017 

Present training to lawyers and forensic physicians on the best way to put this law into effect 

Enhance and activate the foreign supervision and refuse any donations and aids if this law is not taken into account