LEBANON: Several NGOs call on the authorities to effectively combat torture
On 26 June 2022, on the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Alkarama, several NGOs working for the protection of human rights and the Tripoli Bar Association called, through a joint statement, on the Lebanese authorities to comply with their obligations under the Convention against Torture and its optional protocol ratified by Lebanon.
In this statement, attention was drawn to the shortcomings of the Lebanese legislation and the failure of the State party to make the necessary corrections. The Lebanese authorities were urged “effectively protect everyone in its territory, including those in detention, from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment" and to "investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment" by convicting the perpetrators if they are found guilty. It should be noted that complaints are rarely brought to court, with most cases being closed without an effective investigation.
Although there is legislation prohibiting torture, the practice remains widespread throughout the country. This legislation remains insufficient since it does not meet the requirements for the prohibition of torture under the Convention. It provides for a limitation period of 3 to 10 years for prosecution for torture in violation of international standards which state that there should be no limitation period for torture. Also, the penalties provided by the law do not adequately reflect the gravity of the crime of torture.
The lack of effective procedures to combat torture was also highlighted by the associations who recalled that "which is tasked with monitoring the implementation of the Anti-Torture Law and which has the authority to conduct regular, unannounced visits to all places of detention, has not yet been allocated a budget so that it can commence its work."
Furthermore, concrete examples of violations were mentioned. Several local Lebanese human rights NGOs documented “repeated failures of the security forces and the judiciary to enforce the Anti-Torture Law and provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure that aim to protect the rights of detainees.”. Lebanese judicial authorities have, for example, failed to "adequately investigate the serious torture allegations made by Hassan al-Dika prior to his death in custody on 11 May 2019" and "the credible allegations of torture and enforced disappearance that the actor Ziad Itani - accused but later exonerated of spying for Israel – has made against State Security officers."
Some lawyers have also been subjected to reprisals for denouncing acts of torture. Among them is Mohamed Sablouh, a lawyer registered at the Tripoli Bar who represents victims of torture and arbitrary detention. Mr Sablouh has been threatened and harassed by both the General Directorate of Security and the Military Prosecutor's Office because of his work. On 28 September 2021, after he filed a complaint on behalf of a client regarding torture and other ill-treatment under the anti-torture law, the military prosecutor's office asked the Tripoli Bar Association to lift his immunity as a lawyer so that it could prosecute him on charges of disseminating false information. The Tripoli Bar Association rejected this request.
While legislation in the fight against torture has been strengthened in theory, efforts in this area remain very insufficient in practice, as stated by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, which expressed concern about the lack of progress in the prevention of torture at the end of its second visit to Lebanon in May 2022.
On the occasion of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the signatory associations recommended that the State party respect its international commitments under the Convention against Torture by reforming its legislation to bring it into line with the Convention and to conduct prompt and impartial investigations into any allegations of torture.
The State party was also called upon to submit its second periodic report to the UN Committee against Torture, which is overdue since May 2021, and to recognize the competence of the UN Committee against Torture to receive and consider individual complaints from victims, as provided for in article 22 of the UN Convention against Torture.