Press Release

7 April 1997


Experts Concerned by Tardy Submission of Report, Failure to Address Specific Application of International Covenant

The Government of Lebanon had embarked on a wide-ranging programme of reconstruction following many years of civil war and preparations were now under way for the holding of municipal elections, Nabil Maamari of Lebanon's Foreign Ministry said this morning, as the Human Rights Committee began its consideration of Lebanon's second periodic report on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Committee's expert members expressed concern about the delay in submitting Lebanon's report, which was due in 1988. It was also felt that the report, while concise, failed to address the specific application of the Covenant -- information needed to determine the measures required to advance implementation of the Covenant in the country.

Addressing the situation within Lebanon, the expert from Ecuador drew attention to 219 known cases of Lebanese citizens extradited to Syria, asking whether Syria had exerted pressure in that matter. While the difficulties Lebanon was facing were known, the Government could not renounce its duty of ensuring the rights of its citizens to a fair trial in their own territory, he said.

How far was Lebanon its own master? the expert from Germany asked, following on the same theme. Although the Lebanese Government could deny responsibility for human rights violations in the areas occupied by Israeli forces in southern Lebanon, what about the parts of its territory where Syrian forces were deployed?

The conditions of Lebanon's 1983 emergency measures and its failure to report the imposition of those measures promptly to the United Nations, as required under the Covenant, were also raised. Particular concern was voiced about the expanded powers of military courts, which could hear civil cases when they were said to involve questions of national security.

Comments and questions were also raised by the experts from Egypt, Slovenia, Australia, Italy, Finland, Chile, Japan, India, United States and France.

In his response, Mr. Maamari said the presence of the Syrian armed forces in Lebanon was legal, unlike that of the Israeli forces. He knew of no human rights violations by the Syrian forces, which had entered the country in 1975 to help end its civil war and remained there at the request of the Lebanese Government.

The Human Rights Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to conclude its consideration of Lebanon's report.

Committee Work Programme

The Human Rights Committee met this morning to examine the second periodic report of Lebanon on measures it had taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

According to the report (CCPR/C/42/ADD.14), the right of the Lebanese people to self-determination and to dispose of their natural wealth and resources has been threatened by Israel, which occupies part of Lebanese territory despite Security Council resolution 425 (1978). [The resolution, among other things, calls for Israel's withdrawal to its internationally recognized borders.]

The report says the population in the Israeli-occupied area is subjected to all kinds of abuse and ill-treatment and that Israel periodically carries out intensive bombing in the rest of the country, driving the inhabitants out of their towns and villages and causing hundreds of victims and the destruction of the economic infrastructure. Lebanon, nevertheless, wants peace, the report states, provided that it is not contrary to the right of its people to self-determination and that it is just, lasting and applicable throughout the region, in accordance with United Nations resolutions.

According to the report, no provision in Lebanese law makes a distinction between races or individuals. There is no restriction on freedom of conscience, association, worship or the celebration of religious or secular holidays. There is also no obstacle to access to the courts. A person whose rights have been infringed by a wrongful act by a public official may claim compensation from the Government.

The report points out that the so-called southern Lebanese army, "a Lebanese militia in the pay of Israel", maintains an arbitrary judicial system in the border area of southern Lebanon that is beyond the control of the Lebanese authorities. About 250 persons, mainly Lebanese, have been held in a prison there without trial, some for more than 10 years, and a further 75 Lebanese are being held in prisons in Israeli territory.

The army is entrusted with maintaining order if the State of Lebanon is threatened, with the commander-in-chief entitled to take all measures to ensure security, the report states. In particular, he could order a search of buildings and other premises, ports and vessels in Lebanese territorial waters, after obtaining the authorization of the competent judicial authorities. Persons arrested during the searches are referred to military courts.

With regard to provisions of the Covenant on liberty and security of the person, the report states that capital punishment for intentional homicide has been extended to three additional cases: murder committed on religious grounds; murder by means of explosives; and murder committed to avoid the consequences of a crime.

On protection of the right to life by preventing war, the report observes that peace negotiations with Israel have been suspended for reasons beyond Lebanon's control. "In the meantime, Israel continues periodically to bomb the civilian population, destroying dwellings and infrastructure and causing hundreds of victims among children, women and old people." At the domestic level, the report states that the Government of Lebanon is taking the necessary measures to prevent the resumption of the armed conflict which ravaged the country from 1975 to 1990.

On the Covenant provisions on prison conditions, the report observes that, as in many other countries, prison capacity in Lebanon has not kept pace with the increase in the prison population. Because of a lack of space, it has not always been possible, it notes, to separate juvenile offenders from adults. Women may also be held in police stations guarded by men.

Freedom of expression and of the press is guaranteed. The Government plans to reorganize the large number of television and radio channels by granting "a reasonable number of operating licences in order to strike a balance between technical constraints and the requirements of pluralism".

Associations may be established freely and made public simply by a statement deposited with the Ministry of the Interior or any other ministry concerned, according to the report, which also states that public officials are prohibited from forming trade unions, striking or making collective demands.

According to the report, the country's National Covenant -- an unwritten constitutional agreement concluded in 1943 -- provides for the distribution of political posts in Government (members of parliament, ministers, Prime Minister, President of the Chamber of Deputies and President of the Republic) among the various religious communities.

List of Issues

The list of issues to be taken up by the experts in connection with their examination of Lebanon's report are in two parts. Issues raised in the first part include the impact of the country's civil war on the exercise of rights guaranteed under the Covenant and special decrees introduced by the Lebanese Government to deal with threats against State security.

The experts want detailed information on concrete measures taken, and with what results, to investigate cases of extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention by members of the police, the army and any other security forces. Information is also sought on rules and regulations governing the use of weapons by police and security forces, the number of death sentences imposed over the past five years and for what crimes, and the number actually carried out.

Other questions are: Can confessions or testimony obtained under duress be used in court proceedings? In what circumstances may a person be held in incommunicado detention? What steps have been taken to hold municipal elections? What are the rules and regulations guaranteeing the mode of appointment, independence and impartiality of the judiciary? Information is sought on the jurisdiction, composition and activities of the military courts and clarification of their relationship with ordinary courts.

Questions raised in part two of the list of issues include the status of the Covenant in the Lebanese legal order; measures taken by the authorities to protect foreign workers; controls, if any, exercised on the freedom of the press and mass media; and the steps taken to disseminate information on the rights recognized in the Covenant.

The experts also request information on the law and practice governing public meetings, and the employment of children and measures taken to meet their specific needs, including those of homeless children and others living in poverty.

Introduction of Lebanon's Report

NABIL MAAMARI, an Adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Lebanon, said that the country was going through a transitional phase following years of civil war. A programme of reconstruction was being undertaken by the Government, including roads, restoration of electricity and rebuilding the Beirut International Airport. There had been enormous delays in restoring social services. A demining programme was also under way. The Lebanese population included thousands of Palestinians, and a fourth of the population lived under Israeli occupation. He said the peace process had been halted.

With regard to political rights, he said that legislative elections were held last year and that preparations were under way for municipal elections. He hoped participation would be as high for the municipal as for the legislative elections. He said the Lebanese people were very proud of the recent election of two of their nationals to human rights treaty bodies: the Human Rights Committee; and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. That showed the importance attached to human rights by the Lebanese people, he said. He added that any shortcomings in the report were not deliberate and the delegation would welcome recommendations from the experts.

Responding to questions raised in the list of issues, he said that foreign intervention in the country had been such that it was not simple to talk of civil war. He said the multinational force sent to Lebanon in 1992, which included American, French, British and Italian forces, had ultimately been withdrawn because they found the situation uncontrollable. At present, however, no impact of the civil war remained.

Replying to a question regarding the right to life, he said that the State protected the life of its citizens. The death penalty had not been abolished. On other issues, he said that juvenile offenders were separated from adults in prisons. They were interrogated in the presence of social workers, who belonged to an association that handled the problems of children. There were two rehabilitation centres for juvenile offenders. He said the army had been entrusted with authority throughout Lebanese territory and that the internal security authorities also functioned normally.

The Council of Ministers had banned demonstrations, but public meetings, such as sports events, could take place, he said. With regard to extra- judicial executions, torture and disappearances, the deadline for preventive detention had been exceeded in one exceptional circumstance. The use of weapons by the police was governed by a decree dating back to 1945. The regulations required the police to account for the bullets they used.

Replying to a question on death sentences, he said that 12 people, including a member of the Hezbollah organization, had in recent years been condemned to death and executed for various heinous crimes. Life imprisonment was subject to review. Confessions were not taken into account if judges found them to be insincere. A change in the criminal procedure code was being considered. No one could be arrested without a judicial warrant. It was forbidden to arrest someone at a place of worship. An arrest must immediately be reported to the general prosecutor and the accused should not be held for more than three days.

He said there were more than 4,000 prisoners. Plans existed to eventually transfer the supervision of prisons from the Interior to the Justice Ministry. He said the two rehabilitated centres built to accommodate 200 juvenile offenders were equipped with a number of facilities. Female juvenile offenders were few and were housed in women's prison facilities.

Lebanese magistrates enjoyed complete independence, he said. Their appointments had not been subject to reservations from the executive branch. Military courts were headed by a civilian career judge. There were military appeals courts and there were plans to reduce the competence of those military courts. In times of crisis, the jurisdiction of the military courts was expanded. Replying to a question about right to participate in the conduct of public affairs provided for in the Covenant, he said that right was allowed and referred to the legislative elections held last year.

Comments and Questions by Experts

OMRAN EL-SHAFEI, expert from Egypt, said Lebanon's report should have been submitted in 1988. Unfortunately, it was not received until last year. The Committee would like to see the extent to which the Covenant's articles were respected in Lebanon. Its report was drafted in very concise terms. It would be preferable if it had been more comprehensive, particularly with respect to the civil war in Lebanon and Lebanese civil law.

Lebanon had suffered from external intervention, as well as torture and violence in prison, he said. Tension continued to exist in Lebanon. That was not only a result of the civil war, but of Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon. The report described that situation and the right of the Lebanese people to self-determination and to its natural resources. It also noted that the Lebanese Army established an arbitrary jurisdiction in the south. It also cited the burden posed by Lebanon's refugee problem.

The Lebanese elections in 1996 had been the subject of criticism by the opposition, particularly with respect to the election law, he said. Observers had noted the low participation, with only 44 per cent of eligible voters participating. Could the delegation shed some light on the election law, so the Committee could examine whether it was consistent with the Covenant?

He drew attention to a day of general amnesty in Lebanon, which had put an end to the convictions of those sentenced prior to that date. As a result, many people saw their sentences overturned, despite their crimes. What were the circumstances under which that amnesty was promulgated? Did it apply to the civilian militias? What procedures were necessary to impose a state of emergency?

Although Lebanon's military courts had been created to judge military personnel, they also had jurisdiction over civilians, he said. If the accusation concerned national security or disorder, the question was submitted to military courts, which then took decisions on civilian issues. The accused were arrested by military police, held in solitary confinement without any right to meet with counsel, and there had been cases of torture. How was such delegation of authority to the military courts compatible with the Covenant? Had the Government taken action against those who prevented individuals found guilty from contacting their relatives?

DANILO TURK, expert from Slovenia, said it appeared from Lebanon's report that state of emergency measures could be introduced in a wide variety of situations, including those in which the interests of the State were affected. That approach seemed to be too broad, and not in agreement with Article 4 of the Covenant, which limited such measures only to situations that constituted a threat to the life of the nation. Wasn't there a need for a more restrictive approach and more specific legislation?

He said the measures in effect in Lebanon had not been communicated to the United Nations, as required by Article 4 of the Covenant. Did the Government give any thought to that matter for the future? That also applied to notification of the termination of emergency measures. He requested further information.

The trial of civilians by military tribunals had to be seen as a problem, he said. Such jurisdictions generally created long-term and problematic effects. Had the Government taken any steps to address that problem? Were the military and civilian courts entirely independent from each other, or was there provision for jurisdiction over the military courts by a higher civilian court?

ELIZABETH EVATT, expert from Australia, said the information in the report did not give a satisfactory picture of the human rights situation in Lebanon. More specific information relating to the issues raised by the Committee in its list of issues would have been appreciated. That would have enabled the Committee to determine what measures were needed to further implement the Covenant in Lebanon. The report, as it was, was insufficient.

All were aware of the difficult situation in Lebanon, she said. The derogation of rights under the 1983 emergency measures and the failure to report those measures was a matter of concern. She cited the report of a death in custody. It had been attributed to a heart attack, but the post- mortem indicated that the person had been beaten. Amnesty International had referred many allegations of torture to the Committee. The Beirut Bar Association also spoke of an increase in cases of torture. However, in specific cases that they reported, no prosecutions had taken place. Such issues could not be ignored in Lebanon's report to the Committee.

Citing a minibus bombing, the delegation had stated that the ordinary rules for arrest and detention had not been observed, she said. Nevertheless, further information on that incident was required. The Committee had been informed that the arrests were made by the military without warrant, that the detainees were held incommunicado, that they were held in the Ministry of Defence, and had no access to a judge or habeus corpus.

The concern about arbitrary arrest went even further, she said. It appeared that the rules for arrest and detention were often flouted, particularly in arrests by the military. A great deal more information was required concerning the military courts. It was reported that there were few civilian judges and that the code of criminal procedure was not followed in such cases.

ECKART KLEIN, expert from Germany, said Lebanon's report was not only late, but it was rather short and lacked sufficient information on the application of human rights within the country. One would imagine that, given Lebanon's situation, the report would have had a wide range of problems to report.

How far was Lebanon its own master? he asked. In the south, where the Israeli forces were deployed, there were reports of human rights violations, for which Lebanon, of course, denied responsibility. "But what about the other parts of the territory?" he asked. That question concerned the Syrian forces in Lebanon. There were reports that strongly indicated a large number of forced disappearances of persons from Lebanese territory, which were executed by Syrian armed forces or security forces. Those people were held in Lebanon in Syrian installations or even brought to Syria and kept there.

What was the Government's attitude to those acts committed by foreign forces? he asked. Lebanon was still responsible for human rights violations that occurred in its territory, at least in those parts of the territory. What was it doing to protect its own people? Lebanon had to bear international responsibility for those violations.

He expressed concern about the role of the military courts. It was always an alarming signal when the jurisdiction of such courts were enlarged. It had been reported that such procedures were of a rather summary nature, making the situation rather difficult for the defence. It had also been said that the court's jurisdiction extended to matters of State security, rather than to strictly military matters. Also, could persons be tried before courts in absentia? Did that power apply to cases covering capital punishment and life imprisonment? Did it also apply to military courts?

FAUSTO POCAR, expert from Italy, said that the presence of a Lebanese expert on the Committee reflected Lebanon's desire to re-establish relations with the Committee. He asked for detailed information on the decree under which the 1966 state of emergency was proclaimed and broad powers given to the army. Also, what measures were taken by the army to abolish the right of assembly during the state of emergency? Did the Government later expand that right? How many cases had been brought before military courts? He asked for additional information on their jurisdiction, adding that such jurisdiction should be confined to military discipline. What attenuating circumstances came into play in death penalty cases? Had the transfer of control of prisons from the Interior to the Justice Ministry had completed?

MARTIN SCHEININ, expert from Finland, commended the efforts of the Government to improve the situation of women and children. However, he expressed concern about the quality of the Lebanese report, and wondered whether it would not have been appropriate for the Government to involve the Bar Association and other relevant non-governmental organizations in its preparation. He suggested that the Government should consider doing so in the future to improve the quality of its report and its dialogue with Committee experts.

He also expressed concern about the independence of the judiciary. The existence and jurisdiction of the judicial council impeded the right to a fair trial. He asked if the council was involved in death penalty cases. If so, was that not in conflict with Covenant provisions on the right to life? He asked if it was true that some individuals had recently been executed following a decision of the judicial council? He requested further clarification of the Government's position on the death penalty.

CECILIA MEDINA QUIROGA, expert from Chile, also had concerns about the quality of Lebanon's report. She said the Committee would have been helped if the report had been prepared with the involvement of non-governmental organizations. She shared the view that Lebanese legislation was not consistent and regretted, like her colleagues, that the delegation had not commented on the increase in cases subject to the death penalty.

What was the real situation regarding forced labour? she asked. Who actually carried out preliminary investigations? What legal basis existed for the transfer of prisoners to Syria? She also inquired about the rights of foreigners awaiting deportation and how their situation was regulated. What was the proportion of the number of persons convicted and awaiting sentence and were they kept from regular prisoners? Were girl offenders kept under the same conditions as adult women prisoners? Who was considered a minor in Lebanon?

She also expressed concern about the existence of military courts. Did religious courts exist and what was their relation to civilian courts? Noting that political posts in the Government were shared among the various religious communities, she asked whether non-believers could hold political office, as provided for in the Covenant provision regarding participation in the conduct of public affairs.

NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, said he shared the concerns of previous speakers. Lebanon's report was long overdue and lacked information on how the Covenant's provisions were implemented in practice. He also shared concerns about Lebanon's state of emergency and the legal provisions covering it, as well as the question of judicial independence. More information was needed on the competence of military courts relative to civilian courts.

He also expressed concern about the relative representation of religious groups in Lebanese public life. It had been stated that an atheist was neither entitled to vote nor to stand for election. Was that still the case? Was there any judicial remedy available to such a person?

JULIO PRADO VALLEJO, expert from Ecuador, said the report lacked detailed information on substantive issues of concern to the Committee, particularly on the application of laws in practice. It was one thing to have laws, and another to apply them. Further information was requested on the application of those laws.

He said the Committee had received reports of torture and mistreatment. The report, however, simply said measures had been taken to address the matter in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice. What were those measures? What had the results been? Had there, in fact, been mistreatment and torture? Had those responsible been punished? Had the victims been compensated? The report simply said that people had been denounced.

Information was requested on Lebanese citizens who had been detained and extradited to Syria. Was the pressure coming from the Syrian side? There were 219 known cases of Lebanese citizens who had been sent to Syria. While the difficulties Lebanon was facing were known, the Government could not renounce its sovereign duty to ensure the rights of its citizens to a fair trial in their own territory. He drew attention to measures extending the scope of the death penalty and asked for additional information. There had been a serious public outcry about a Lebanese press law, but the report made no mention of it. He requested further information.

In response, Mr. MAAMARI, Adviser to the Foreign Ministry of Lebanon, said the 1992 legislative elections had been boycotted by a considerable sector of the population. The rate of participation was quite low. The same could not be said of the 1996 elections, which enjoyed the participation of those who had boycotted the earlier elections.

Regarding the amnesty law, he said that at the end of the war it was desirable to want to erase what had happened. It was not possible to fully determine the extent of the crimes and who was responsible for them. The Government had stopped looking ceaselessly for those who had disappeared for five years. They could not be found. Were they dead? The Government did not know. They could not be found on Lebanese territory.

However, the amnesty law applied to crimes by the police as long as they were not repetitive crimes, such as repeated attempts to commit assassinations following the establishment of the amnesty law. That was why the law was subsequently lifted, in accordance with its own provisions. As to Decree No. 102, which addressed emergency measures, it remained valid and could be applied without additional recourse to Parliament.

Military courts addressed cases concerning the military, he said. There had been no cases of torture. There were cases of individuals being detained for longer than the authorized period and there had been cases of mistreatment, but one could not say there had been cases of torture. Information had been provided to the Human Rights Commission, which had closed the case last Friday. At present, there were no individuals in prison for political reasons.

It was true that in implementing Decree No. 102, there had not been an accompanying notification to the United Nations, he said. That matter could be brought to the Government's attention. There was no monitoring of the military courts by the civilian courts. In the case of the minibus attack, individuals had been detained beyond the authorized period. While meetings were allowed, only demonstrations were banned. There were all kinds of public assemblies every day.

Addressing the immediate interrogation of a detainee by a magistrate, he said it was aimed at guaranteeing that the detention would not be prolonged. It did not mean that matters were being rushed in order to bypass the involvement of a lawyer. A lawyer was present. It was now being suggested that a lawyer be present at the first stage of judicial proceedings, as a witness.

There had been improvements in the laws on equality between men and women, but much remained to be done and would be done, he said. There was no telephone bugging. That had been banned. It was true that some conversations were monitored, but that wasn't appropriate. Imprisonment for non-payment of a civil debt was only allowed for non-payment of alimony.

There were specific laws governing marriages for each of the religious communities, he said. There was, as yet, no procedure in Lebanon for holding a non-religious marriage ceremony. Those who wished to marry without any religious ceremony did so abroad, and their marriage was recognized in Lebanon. There were religious courts, which took decisions on marriage status and consequences. What originally was deemed as a guarantee for religious communities was now seen as a hindrance, because some individuals refused to recognize their religious community.

It had been deemed that the Lebanese should belong to one of the religious sects, he said. That had nothing to do with a particular religion, but was a matter of peoples' ethnic background. There was a community called "Community 19", which was set aside for those who chose not to recognize any of the existing communities, including atheists. Such individuals were given that civil status.

Some religious authorities had been up in arms about that, he said. However, other associations felt that the country should be working towards a non-religious system, in which everyone in the territory should have the same rights with respect to marriage. It had also been suggested that religious courts should be monitored and should be under the civil courts. "Does an atheist have the right to vote or be elected? Yes, of course", he said.

He said he had reviewed the 12 cases of application of the death penalty in recent years. The expanded application of the death sentence in the law had not resulted in an expanded use of the death penalty in practice. Summary executions had been carried out during the war on the basis of whether one belonged to a political or religious group. Contrary to forced labour, prisoners were faced with a lack of anything to do. Forced labour was not used.

He said juveniles were separated from adult prisoners. There was no censorship of the press and opposition newspapers published freely. For technical reasons, Lebanon's many television and radio stations had been requested by the Government to form a grouping to reduce their number. Certain programmes had been curtailed by the Government so as not to offend neighbouring countries.

Additional Questions by Experts

CECILIA MEDINA QUIROGA, expert from Chile, asked whether it was true that juvenile girls were separated from adults or kept together in prisons. Which institution dealt with cases arising from marriages contracted abroad?

PRAFULLACHANDRA BHAGWATI, expert from India, asked for information on the number of court systems in Lebanon, the composition of the judicial council, its mandate and jurisdiction and its mode of operation. He said it was important that the council should be totally independent and impartial. Did the council have the right to hear appeals direct from the public or was it restricted to cases referred to it by the Council of Ministers?.

Mr. KLEIN, expert from Germany, asked for information on the role of the Syrian security forces in Lebanon and whether their presence was authorized under any legal instrument. How was the Lebanese population protected from acts of the Syrian forces?

NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, asked for clarification on whether a person not belonging to any of the religious communities could hold political office.

Response of Lebanon

Mr. MAAMARI, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry, said civilian marriages contracted abroad were subject to the laws of the place where it took place. Magistrates were appointed by the Higher Council of the Magistrature, whose members themselves were appointed by the Government. There had been suggestions that the appointments should be made by an independent body. He said judges with responsibilities higher than those on the Higher Council were in practice independent and impartial.

He said the presence of the Syrian armed forces was legal. They had originally been part of a multinational Arab force, which intervened in 1975 to help end the civil war in Lebanon. Their continued presence was at the request of the Lebanese Government. He said there were many agreements and treaties between Lebanon and Syria and some covered economic and trade matters. He said Lebanon drew a distinction between the presence of Syrian forces, which was legal, and that of Israeli troops, which was illegal. The future of the Syrian troops would be discussed at the appropriate time.

Mr. KLEIN, expert from Germany, asked what the Lebanese Government was doing about reports of human rights violations by Syrian forces.

Mr. MAAMARI, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry, said he knew of no such violations.

THOMAS BUERGENTHAL, expert from the United States, said he had information about the detention of 200 Lebanese in Syria and asked for information on them.

Mr. MAAMARI, Adviser in the Foreign Ministry, again said that he had no information on the subject. He said there were cases of Lebanese held by Israel in its occupied zone in Lebanon and in Israel itself. There had been reports of those Lebanese being tortured. He expressed surprise that no member of the Committee had mentioned it.

CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France and Chairperson of the Committee, said that purpose of the Committee was to find out the human rights situation in Lebanon. It was natural that questions should be confined to issues within Lebanon, without disregard for other cases known to the experts.

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