By Bassam Khawaja
Today is International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. For Lebanon, that means another year in which the government has failed to advance justice and accountability for the thousands who were forcibly disappeared during the country’s long and bloody civil war.
An estimated 17,000 Lebanese were kidnapped or “disappeared” during the civil war of 1975-90. In addition, scores of citizens and Palestinians disappeared in Lebanon after 1990 during Syria’s military presence in the country, and are known or believed to have been transferred to detention in Syria.
But until now, there has been no significant effort to investigate and uncover their fate or whereabouts. A proposal to set up an independent national commission to investigate these cases has gone nowhere.
The Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon, as well as other nongovernmental groups, have proposed a draft law to create a commission that would include representatives of victims’ families and nongovernmental groups and have a broad mandate to investigate what happened to the disappeared and to question former officials. But parliament has not moved to pass legislation, and families are still awaiting answers.
In Lebanon, the issue of enforced disappearances cannot be relegated to the history of the civil war. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of military detention, in which families are not able to locate detainees in detention, some of which may amount to enforced disappearances. Human Rights Watch has also documented accounts of Syrians who disappeared in Lebanese custody in 2014 and are feared to have been deported to Syria, where they may face torture and death.
Parliament should at long last pass legislation to establish a national commission. And Lebanon should ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and prosecute cases of enforced disappearances on its territory.
The families of those who disappeared should not be left in the dark any longer.
Published on HRW on August 29, 2017.