By Bassam Khawaja
Once again, political pressure is growing for Lebanon to resume executions.
Most recently, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk called last Friday for the application of the death penalty. Lebanon has an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty and has not carried out an execution since 2004, although courts continue to hand down death sentences. Any move to resume executions should be resisted.
Lebanon’s moratorium is a bright spot on its human rights record and is in line with a global trend to abolish the death penalty. Just 23 countries are known to have carried out executions in 2016. A resumption of executions would constitute a troubling setback for Lebanon, without making the country safer or deterring crime. Studies have consistently found there is no clear evidence that the death penalty deters crime. Lebanon in 2010 resisted similar calls from politicians to resume executions.
A resumption of executions would be particularly troubling given concerns about a lack of due process guarantees in Lebanese courts. Human Rights Watch found in 2017 that military courts, which have broad jurisdiction over civilians and retain the death penalty, do not guarantee due process rights. Those who have stood trial in military court describe the use of confessions extracted under torture, decisions issued without an explanation, seemingly arbitrary sentences, and a limited ability to appeal.
On October 10, 2008, Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar submitted to the Council of Ministers a draft law abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life imprisonment with hard labor.
Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and under all circumstances. Capital punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and is plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. Most countries have abolished the practice outright, while dozens have adopted a de facto moratorium. In 2012, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on all countries to establish a moratorium on the death penalty, progressively restrict the practice, and reduce the offenses for which it might be imposed, all with the view toward its eventual abolition.
Ending its moratorium on executions would only serve to tarnish Lebanon’s human rights record. Instead, parliament should solidify Lebanon’s position as a leader on this issue in the Middle East, and abolish the death penalty outright.
Published on HRW on June 12, 2017.