Torture on the Back Burner
The right to be free from torture is an issue that has always ranked low on Lebanon’s priority list. Although the government has made some progress over the years, it still has little to show for its efforts to uphold international obligations and commitments in this regard. With an insubstantial, 15- year overdue state report to the Committee against Torture, a draft law on the criminalization of torture which has been in the works for over 3 years, and a National Preventive Mechanism which is still in its preliminary stages of formation, it is evident that the lack of political will has manifested through long delays in reporting and a prolonged reform process.
It comes as no surprise that the Lebanese government attributes these shortcomings to the country’s fragile security situation.[i] This concern is somehow valid, except that by giving insufficient, and at times counter- productive responses to human rights issues such as torture, state authorities further exacerbate the country’s vulnerable security situation. In recent years, conflict in Syria has catalyzed a level of intense fear of spillover into Lebanon, and heightened tensions among and within host and refugee communities. These negative security perceptions have reinforced existing public support in favor of torture, and widespread permissiveness of the practice.[ii]
The reasoning behind such support is widely based on the assumption that torturing suspects of security- related crimes will help produce useful information to inform operations against security offences, or deter security- related crimes from taking place. This argument however has been proven several times to be unfounded and hence invalid. Another popular narrative is that those who are subject to torture and ill- treatment are deserving of such treatment, regardless of whether they possess valuable information or not. The use of this argument fundamentally challenges the essence of human dignity, and questions the respect for basic principles of human rights.
Even more alarming is the state’s disregard for accountability and oversight, as it turns a blind eye to torture practices, and allows for perpetrators to go unpunished. This is evidenced by the lack of transparency at the hand of state authorities in reporting the outcomes of investigations into torture cases, and failure to publicly announce when punitive measures are taken against perpetrators. The systemic gaps in available complaints structures also violate basic protection principles as they are not victim- friendly or independent, and do not present guarantees for non- repetition.[iii] In turn, this culture of impunity feeds back into the state of perpetual instability and insecurity through deepening the lack of trust in the state.
Torture, or the lack of meaningful responses to such practices, represents not only a violation to the state’s international obligations, but also completely disregards the centuries of international discourse which brought us to develop international norms and laws prohibiting its use. On the 20th of April 2017, the government of Lebanon will stand before the UN Committee Against Torture to evaluate the implementation of these norms and laws in Lebanon. This not only presents an opportunity to review past practices, but also to put forward recommendations for action which, if well observed, could significantly improve torture prevention and the overall situation of human rights in Lebanon. It is therefore of the utmost importance for civil society to stay vigilant, continue to act as watchdogs against such threats to human rights, and ensure that national security does not come at the expense of these rights.
By Francisca Ankrah [iv]
Projects Coordinator at ALEF – Act for Human Rights
[i] “The extraordinary political, economic, social and security circumstances that Lebanon went through in the past fourteen years did not allow the fulfillment of this commitment within the prescribed time limit.” – The Government of Lebanon in justifying delays in reporting to the Committee Against Torture, taken from Lebanon’s state report to the Committee Against Torture, March 2016
[ii] In a focus group conducted by ALEF – Act for Human Rights in 2015, participants aged 18- 25 stated that the use of torture to obtain a confession, in cases of national security, is acceptable. Taken from LCPS and ALEF, “Right to a Fair Trial Focus Group Report”, 2015.
[iii] See for example: Human Rights Watch, “Lebanon: Syrian Refugee’s Account of Torture”, December 21, 2016, available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/21/lebanon-syrian-refugees-account-torture.
[iv] The views and opinions shared in this article do not necessary represent the position of OMCT or the institutions the author is affiliated with.