New Law for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared in Lebanon Offers Hope to Victims’ Families, Marks a Major Step Toward Justice

Program Expert, Lebanon


Ever since the armed conflict in Lebanon broke out in the mid-1970s, the main demand of the families of the missing and disappeared has been to secure the right to know the truth and the right to an effective investigation, verification of facts, and public disclosure of what happened. These families persisted in their demands over the decades, against the odds and despite social, political, and cultural forces pushing for collective amnesia. Their perseverance, along with civil society’s invaluable efforts, shined a continuous light on the issue of the disappeared, igniting a public debate that parliamentarians could no longer ignore. Last month, they voted in favor of the Law for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared Persons in Lebanon.

The passage of this law is an acknowledgment by the Lebanese state that victims have been wronged and are entitled to redress. The otherwise superficial reconciliations that political leaders forged during the past years will have no true meaning if not coupled with acknowledging and addressing the rights of victims, which are the main conditions for a real national reconciliation.

 Among other things, this law acknowledges the rights to truth and to access to information and establishes an independent commission to investigate the fate of the missing and forcibly disappeared. It also includes provisions outlining the procedure to provide a “Missing Person Certificate,” which could resolve some of the difficulties arising from the continued absence of the disappeared.

For the victims, this law is a significant victory. It reinforces families’ claims and elevates the right to truth to formal legal legitimacy. The passage of the law gives the families a glimmer of hope and motivates them, and it remobilizes civil society to continue its fight to uncover the fate of their loved ones. During a press conference on November 28, families stressed that their unique demand is to know—not criminal accountability. Hence, uncovering the fate of the missing will neither destabilize Lebanon’s fragile peace nor endanger civil war leaders, who will still benefit from the 1991 general amnesty law that allowed them to serve in government.

This law gives the government a chance to comply with its obligations regarding victims’ right to know the truth, to finally address this issue in a serious and transparent manner, and to end the state-sponsored amnesia. The armed conflict in Syria and its spillover into Lebanon, the protracted economic and political instability, and the lack of political have been distracting attention away from the issue of the missing. Now that a legal basis has been established, it is urgent that the authorities work with all stakeholders to ensure effective implementation, taking into consideration the need for timely action since vital information is lost as time passes.

The unhealed wounds of the civil war include the missing, an issue that has affected all communities across the country. If not addressed, it will always remain a serious obstacle to sustainable peace and true reconciliation.

PHOTO: Families of the disappeared hold a sit-in in front of the criminal court in Sidon, Lebanon, on April 13, 2006, as they have done every year since the the end of the civil war. (Mazna El Masri)