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Lebanon: Human Rights Organizations urge the Lebanese authorities to stop referring civilians to the Military Court

Following the preliminary investigations with former Minister Michel Samaha, suspected of plotting terrorist attacks in Lebanon, carried out this past week, his case was referred to the Military Tribunal. ALEF, CLDH and Alkarama consider this to be a further case illustrating the worrying practice in Lebanon of deferring civilians before the Military Court system.

According to the Lebanese Code of Military Justice of 1968, Lebanon's Military Court is a special court competent to statute on offences against national security and crimes committed by military personnel. This court is headed by a military officer assisted by four other judges, three of which are military officers. In addition, the military judges are appointed by the Minister of Defense based on the recommendation of the affiliated military body. The appointment of the military judges does not require any previous legal studies or a law degree. The Military Court has jurisdiction over cases involving civilians in espionage, treason, weapons possession, and attempted evasion cases, as well any conflict between civilian and military personnel.

The functioning of the Military Court as described above raises several concerns with regard to the right to the right to a fair trial. This includes the right to be tried before a competent, independent and impartial court establishedby law and the right to a public hearing, which cannot be guaranteed by the Military Court, especially for civilians. For example, the procedure to appoint the judges clearly undermines the independence of the Military Court, which, in turn, creates an atmosphere of impunity. Indeed, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers that "in principle, military tribunals should not try civilians" (Opinion No. 27/2008).

More specifically, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed in its 1997 review of Lebanon's report "concern about the broad scope of the jurisdiction of military courts in Lebanon, especially its extension beyond disciplinary matters and its application to civilians. It is also concerned about the procedures followed by these military courts, as well as the lack of supervision of the military courts' procedures and verdicts by the ordinary courts." Since the review before the UN body in 1997, the situation with regard to the military jurisdiction in Lebanon has not changed and in addition, Lebanon failed to submit their third periodic report to the Human Rights Committee, which was due in 2001.

Finally, the nature and practice of the Military Court in Lebanon renders its justice expedient and expeditious. Therefore, Lebanese and international NGOs as well as UN bodies have regularly point out that the Military Court has failed to comply with international standards relating to fair trial. This creates a favorable atmosphere for the violation of the rights of the defendants as well as an environment of lawlessness, of impunity and blatant contempt for the rule of law. The Military Court in Lebanon has, since its establishment, proved to be a judicial system without oversight mechanisms, accountability or transparency.

ALEF, CLDH and Alkarama therefore urge the Lebanese authorities to stop referring civilians before the Military Court and to "review the jurisdiction of the military courts [restricting it to internal military issues] and transfer the competence of military courts, in all trials concerning civilians and in all cases concerning the violation of human rights by members of the military, to the ordinary courts", in accordance with the Human Rights Committee's 1997 recommendation. In addition, we call on the Lebanese authorities to respect international fair trial standards, including their obligation to investigate all allegations of torture.

- ALEF - act for human rights

- CLDH - Centre Libanais des Droits Humains (CLDH)

- Alkarama Foundation