Lebanon: Principles for Dealing with the Missing, Including the Forcibly Disappeared

10/16/2012

As the debate around the issue of missing persons intensifies in Lebanon, the International Center for Transitional Justice emphasized the importance of principles for establishing a national independent commission for the missing, including the forcibly disappeared.

ICTJ welcomes the discussions which have taken place over recent months as officials and civil society have considered means to address this issue. These discussions have flagged the importance of the right to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones to the families in Lebanon. Whether the next step is a government decree or a law as proposed by Lebanese civil society organizations and ICTJ in 2011, ICTJ believes that it is important to consider a number of issues when establishing a body to address this matter.

  • Inclusivity. All cases of the missing, including those of enforced disappearance, should be investigated by such a body without limitation to a particular time period. While there are differences between the forcibly disappeared and the broader category of missing persons, the same mechanisms and norms apply to both categories when it comes to the right to truth.

  • Victim involvement. The families of the missing, including the disappeared, should be empowered to play an active part in a commission.

  • Independence of commissioners and commission staff. The commission’s full and meaningful independence - both in practice and perception - is of paramount importance. It should be independent of any ministry, both physically and financially. Membership of the body is also key - inclusion of a government delegate on the Commission and other state officials still in office would run counter to best practice, and also undermine the body's independence. The use of a state attorney before tribunals could also lead to questions about the Commission's independence.

  • Authority to compel. The Commission should have the power to compel evidence from government and/or private actors who may have records or other information such as documents or testimony. Within this framework, there should be appropriate sanctions against those who do not cooperate in the provision of such evidence.

  • Provision for the rights of the families. The rights of the relatives of the missing, including the disappeared - including the right to know the fates of their loved ones, to access information and to participate in investigations, and to compensation - should be clearly specified.

  • Duration. If the six-year duration of the decree also reflects the temporal mandate of the Commission, then provision should be made for an extension if needed, or for the functions to be taken over by an independent and responsible authority.

The ICTJ believes that meaningfully addressing the issue of the missing, including the forcibly disappeared, is one of the most important steps that can be taken in order to begin dealing with Lebanon's past. Establishing records of those whose fate remains unknown is a necessary foundation for addressing the legacy of the missing, including the disappeared, in Lebanon.