Last week’s scandal of a Syrian detainee who was allegedly tortured to death has once again sounded the alarm on the urgent need to end to the violent practice and activate Lebanon's National Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
Bashar Abdel Saud died of a heart attack allegedly caused by severe torture and beating at the headquarters of the General Directorate of State Security in Bint Jbeil, southern Lebanon. The images of his gushed and bruised body were disseminated on social media a few hours later, provoking shock and anger among the public and civil society.
Lebanon's National Committee for the Prevention of Torture was established in 2019 under the country's Anti-Torture Law, in accordance with the its ratification of the 2000 International Convention against Torture. However, three years after the appointment of its five members — chosen from names proposed by the Bar Association and the Lebanese Order of Physicians, as well as university professors and civil society personalities — the committee is still idle.
Why? Because the state has yet to allocate it a budget.
“This is a political and financial problem,” Raymond Medlej, a lawyer and member of the committee, told L'Orient-Le Jour.
Blocked by the state
According to Medlej, the scandal regarding the Syrian detainee could have been avoided if the state had not blocked the functions of his committee.
“The government has not signed the decrees necessary for the committee to start functioning,” he said. "As long as the decree endorsing the rules of procedure drafted by the committee and the decree of remuneration of its members are not signed, our work remains voluntary.”
Medlej explained that it is not enough to spread awareness on the need to respect human rights. He stressed that, for the committee to become effective, it is necessary to put logistics in place.
“It is imperative to provide us with a space to work, as provided by the law,” Medlej said, pointing out that “the meetings of the committee members are currently being held in a doctor’s office, who lent it to us.”
He went on to explain that work of the committee will require the recruitment of at least 50 employees to aid in drafting publications, visiting prisons, organizing forums and promoting awareness, among other tasks.
According to Medlej, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture was legally established as a totally independent body, free from any political interference.
“No one can dismiss us before the end of our mandate,” Medlej said.
The committee has extensive powers; It can request that the public prosecution office turn over its investigations into torture cases. Committee members can visit prisons and other detention centers without prior authorization. They can also interview detainees about conditions in the prisons and submit their findings to UN officials.
Ironically, Medlej revealed he and his colleagues recently visited the State Security headquarters for a meeting with a human rights officer.
“We discussed awareness programs,” he told L’Orient-Le Jour.
The State Security justified its torture of Abdel Saud by claiming that the detainee was a member of the Islamic State (Daesh).
An official from the agency also claimed “self-defense” on the grounds that Abdel Saud had attacked the officer who was interrogating him.
After the news of Abdel Saud’s death broke, the government commissioner at the military court, Judge Fadi Akiki, traveled directly to Bint Jbeil. After an examination of the remains, Akiki ordered the arrest of the lieutenant in charge of the Bint Jbeil office and four other security service officers.
Ghaleb Saleh, the forensic doctor who examined the body, reported that wounds were found on all parts of Abdel Saud’s body, including “the head, forehead, neck, back, lower abdomen [and] feet.” The report said the wounds were caused by “whiplashes” and “metal objects.”
The president of the Restart Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, Suzanne Jabbour, told L’Orient Le Jour she hopes the shocking news of Abdel Saud’s death will serve as a lesson to security officers conducting preliminary investigations.
“The media coverage is likely to have a positive impact on the security officers ... [by making them] think twice before engaging in violence,” Jabbour said
“We will be watching to see how the judiciary pursues its investigation,” Jabbour added. "If it continues to act with the same transparency, its verdict will set a precedent.”
She stressed the need for accountability to not be limited to this case, and expressed her hope that “sanctions will apply to all those responsible for such cruelties.”
Jabbour’s association works on training security service agents to change their behavior and cultural understanding in relation to torture practices.
“Many studies show that violent measures do not work,” she explained, pointing out that “these practices have an impact on concentration and memory, and can generate false statements and information.”
Jabbour proposes the replacement of torture with alternative means of interrogation, including “scientific techniques.”
She also deplored the state's failure to enforce laws such as Article 65 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes torture, and Article 47, which allows detainees to have lawyer present during interrogations following their arrest.
Jabbour advocates for audiovisual recordings of all interrogations, which could generate evidence to hold potential perpetrators accountable.
Paradoxically, Lebanon participated in the drafting of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.
Last week’s scandal of a Syrian detainee who was allegedly tortured to death has once again sounded the alarm on the urgent need to end to the violent practice and activate Lebanon's National Committee for the Prevention of Torture.Bashar Abdel Saud died of a heart attack allegedly caused by severe torture and beating at the headquarters of the General Directorate of State Security in Bint...