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.

Pictures from the “wall of the disappeared,” a memorial and protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, 2005. (Hanny Megally)

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 Red Cross study concluded that 75% of Lebanese citizens had “personal experience” of armed conflict.

There are successive periods for which truth and accountability is 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 disappeared in this conflict.
No serious measure has been taken to address these violations, and no one has ever been prosecuted for these abuses—due to a comprehensive amnesty law passed in 1991.

Abuses continued to be committed throughout 1990–2005, and parts of Lebanon remained under occupation by Israel and Syria. Even following the Syrian Army’s withdrawal in April 2005, the country has not been able to escape its recurring cycles of violence.

The 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and a number of political and intellectual figures in a series of targeted attacks led to the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in 2007.

Despite its value in seeking accountability for high-profile assassinations, the STL’s presence highlights the lack of justice for the tens of thousands who have also been lost to political violence in Lebanon.

The 2006 Lebanon War devastated much of the country, and the ensuing civic unrest brought the nation to the brink of internal conflict in the 2008 crisis. With spillover from the Syrian Civil War, Lebanese society and politics remain restive and 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 statement, and the cabinet pledged to address it in a serious and comprehensive manner.

In March 2014, one of the highest judiciary institutions in the country, the State Shura Council, issued a decision that gave the relatives of the missing the right to know the fate of their loved ones. It has ruled that the government should disclose the files of the 2000 Commission that investigated cases of disappearances. However, the government refused to implement the court’s decision, on the grounds that the release of the investigation file would endanger civil peace.

In June 2014, the State Shura Council rejected the request of the Committee of Cases at the Ministry of Justice that called for a retrial and a suspension of the implementation of the State Shura Council’s decision issued in March. This decision reflects an important development in the judiciary authorities’ performance and independence. The families were finally provided with a copy of the government’s investigation file .

In April 2014, two Lebanese MPs 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 the document ICTJ prepared in 2012 with several stakeholders, including victims’ groups.

However despite these breakthrough developments, Lebanese political actors continue to avoid or delay any meaningful action and engagement with the country’s overwhelming collective experience of violence and suffering.

ICTJ's Role:

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 Lebanon's residents' perceptions and expectations of 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 to policymakers and the general public were developed for constructively dealing with the country’s violent past. ICTJ has also contributed to public understanding of the operations and ongoing work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) through workshops, public lectures, and a field trip for journalists and publications. We produced a handbook on the STL in 2008.

Truth-seeking and the Right to Know: ICTJ encourages the creation of a truth-seeking process to address the enforced disappearances that occurred during the civil war. To that end we assist local actors, civil society and families through our research and experience in their legal and public struggles for recognition and closure. Together with our local and international partners we produced and disseminated a Draft Law for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared Persons, a key tool and anchor for continuing advocacy on the issue. Together with our partners, our oral history project Badna Naaref (We Want to Know) had Lebanese students engage and record their immediate families and neighbors about their personal experiences of war and violence. From this testimony a documentary was produced. More recently, based on interviews conducted with 23 wives of missing or disappeared persons during Lebanon’s civil war, a report was produced examining the impact of disappearance on wives of the missing in Lebanon.

Updated April 8, 2015