Lebanon carries a heavy legacy of human rights violations—almost none of which have been addressed in a serious or transparent manner. ICTJ works with local civil society and policymakers in Lebanon on measures to address the past and strengthen the rule of law.
Background: No Justice, No Peace
With a succession of interrelated wars, two parallel occupations, and a string of high-profile assassinations, Lebanon carries a heavy legacy of human rights and humanitarian law violations. A study issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded that 75 percent of Lebanese citizens have “personal experience” of armed conflict.
There are multiple events for which truth and accountability are being sought. The first is the 1975–1990 war, in which a wide range of local and international actors were involved. Over 100,000 civilians were killed and approximately 17,000 were disappeared during this time. The Taef agreement, signed in 1989, brought the civil war to an end but also effectively institutionalized existing divisions by establishing a sectarian political sharing system based on the one enshrined in the 1943 National Pact, which effectively declared Lebanon’s independence and entrenched sectarianism in society.
After the civil war, parts of Lebanon remained under occupation by Israel and Syria through 2005, and human rights abuses continued to be committed. Even following the Syrian Army’s withdrawal in April 2005, the country has not been able to fully escape its recurring cycles of violence.
No serious measures have ever been implemented to address the violations committed during the war. No one has ever been prosecuted for these abuses, in large part due to a comprehensive amnesty law passed in 1991.
In 2000, 10 years after the Taef agreement was signed, and under pressure from the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared, the government agreed to establish a commission on the missing and forcibly disappeared. Two more commissions followed, the first in 2001 to investigate the disappeared who were believed to still alive, and another, joint Lebanese-Syrian commission in 2005. The work of these commissions yielded no meaningful results and has been severely criticized.
The 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and a number of other political and intellectual figures in a series of targeted attacks led to the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in 2007. Despite the STL’s value in seeking accountability for high-profile assassinations, its limited mandate translates to a lack of justice for the tens of thousands of civilians who have also lost their live due to political violence in Lebanon.
The 2006 Lebanon War devastated much of the country, and the ensuing civil unrest brought the nation to the brink of internal conflict in what is now known as the 2008 crisis. Today, spillover from the Syrian civil war keeps Lebanese society and politics restive and the country engulfed in violence.
In 2008, human rights organizations and victims’ groups presented a statement to President Michel Suleiman demanding that the issue of the disappeared be made a national priority. Suleiman acknowledged the issue in his oath, and the cabinet pledged to address it in a serious and comprehensive manner.
It was not until March 2014 that the State Shura Council, one of the highest judiciary institutions in the country, issued a landmark decision acknowledging for the first time in Lebanese law the families’ right to know the fate of their loved ones. It ruled that the government should disclose the file of the 2000 commission that investigated cases of disappearances. This decision reflects an important development in the judicial authorities’ performance and independence. The families were finally provided with a copy of the government’s investigation file.
Building on this major development, in April 2014, two Lebanese members of parliament proposed a draft law on the missing and forcibly disappeared persons that called for the establishment of an independent national commission with full powers to manage the file. The draft was largely inspired by a document prepared in 2012 by ICTJ, in collaboration with several stakeholders including victims’ groups.
In early May 2018, prior to the parliamentary elections, several members of parliament and political parties signed the national petition to disclose the fate of the missing and forcibly disappeared, finally committing to putting an end to families’ suffering. This commitment came to fruition in November 2018 with the passage of Law 105 on the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared Persons. This law is a significant victory for the families and an acknowledgment of the rights of victims by the Lebanese state. In June 2020, the government appointed the members of the National Commission for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared—the key feature of Law 105.
The revolution that erupted on October 17, 2019, represents the largest decentralized, anti-government protest the country has seen at least since the end of the civil war in 1990. People all over Lebanon voiced their varied grievances, including over corruption, weak institutions, poor public services, appropriation of public spaces, inequality, discrimination, poverty, and unemployment. Many of these grievances are connected to unresolved issues dating back to the civil war. The persistence of injustice in Lebanon aggravates existing social tensions and instability and has contributed to the most serious political and economic crisis since the end of the conflict.
ICTJ provides assistance and advice to civil society actors and policymakers working on Lebanon’s legacy of human rights violations, including forced disappearances. Our involvement aims to enable them to more effectively press government and lawmakers to take concrete steps to address these issues.
Addressing the legacy of conflict. In the struggle to break cycles of violence in Lebanon, ICTJ worked with its partners on a multi-year project, “Addressing the Legacy of Conflict in a Divided Society,” to collect and map past violations, analyze the consequences of impunity on society, and to survey the people in Lebanon about their perceptions and expectations for truth and justice. Based on the findings of these studies, and on research and advocacy work carried out by a consortium of practitioners, experts, and victims’ groups in Lebanon, a set of policy recommendations were proposed to help policymakers and the general public deal constructively with the country’s violent past. ICTJ has also contributed to public understanding of the operations and work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) through workshops, public lectures, and a field trip for journalists. We also produced a handbook on the STL in 2008.
Truth seeking and the right to know. ICTJ has encouraged the creation of a truth-seeking process to address the enforced disappearances that occurred during the civil war. To that end, we have assisted local actors, civil society, and families in their legal and public pursuit for truth, recognition, and closure. To help lay the groundwork for the independent national commission for the missing and forcibly disappeared, ICTJ published a report in 2016 that provides substantive, operational, and financial input, specific to the Lebanese context. In November 2018, Parliament passed Law 105 for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared Persons. The law was based on the draft submitted to Parliament in 2014, which was written by organizations associated with families of the missing and other stakeholders including ICTJ. In collaboration with our partners, we undertook the oral history project Badna Naaref (We Want to Know), which had Lebanese students engage with members of their immediate families and neighbors and record them speaking about their personal experiences of war and violence. From these testimonies, a documentary with the same name was produced. More recently, ICTJ’s arts-based, history-telling project “The War As I See It” encouraged Lebanese teenagers and young adults to explore how they understand the civil war as part of the country’s past and present.
In 2016, ICTJ produced a report examining the impact of disappearance on wives of the missing in Lebanon, based on interviews conducted with 23 wives of missing or disappeared persons during Lebanon’s civil war. ICTJ is also currently supporting the archiving project of the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared that documents the long-term struggles of the families of the missing and disappeared in Lebanon. ICTJ will continue providing technical advice and support for the full and meaningful implementation of Law 105 on the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared.