The disappeared of Lebanon are again on the political agenda, haunting all those responsible in Syria.
- From: "Alan" <ATTM@xxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 20 Nov 2005 12:37:16 +0100
The disappeared of Lebanon are again on the political agenda, haunting all
those responsible in Syria.
Missing, until when?
It's been over 10 years and the fate of Dany -- the youngest child of Mary
and Joseph Mansourati -- remains unknown. Hundreds of Lebanese like Dany,
drawn from all religious backgrounds and persuasions, remain disappeared or
arbitrarily detained. Their families and human rights groups blame Syrian
military and intelligence officers who controlled Lebanon over the past
"Why did they take him, I don't know. What is he charged with, I don't know.
Why is he still there, I don't know. They took him on 9 May 1992," Mary, who
is originally Syrian, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We were in Damascus. Dany and
his brother were stopped by Syrian intelligence personnel and Dany was taken
away," Mary said. "I asked some influential people and all they would tell
me was that Dany worked for Israel. That is not true. He hated Israel. He
used to belong to the Lebanese Forces militia but he left the party a long
The circumstances behind much abduction are believed to be political,
especially if those taken engaged in armed insurrection against Syrian
forces or had alleged ties to Israel. Over 17,000 Lebanese went missing
during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) and in ensuing years. All parties
to the conflict -- the Lebanese militias, Palestinian groups, the Israeli
army and the Syrian army -- bear responsibility for disappearances.
"Concerning the Syrian file, Syrian officers directly or through Lebanese
security forces illegally detained scores of Lebanese and moved them to
Syria," Ghassan Mukheiber, the head of the parliamentary Committee for Human
Rights told the Weekly. "And Syria is not acknowledging their existence."
Their mothers, however, are not taking no for an answer. Since Syria's
withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005, they have been camping outside the
headquarters of the UN in Beirut, demanding an international committee be
formed to investigate their cases.
"When we began the protest, we had 280 names. After Syria's pullout,
families started to come forward with information about their loved ones.
Today, we have 643 names," Ghazi Aad, the head of the non-governmental
organisation, Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE) said. "But
from past experience we know the numbers are higher. For example, on 28
February 1998 the head of Syria's Syndicate of Lawyers said in Beirut they
had no more detainees left in their jails. Days later, on 6 March, Syria
released 121 detainees. And from the 121, we only had four names on our list
which means we didn't know about 117 cases."
Amnesty International has for years been calling on the Syrian authorities
to disclose the fate or whereabouts of those missing. "There is no legal
basis for the arrest and transfer of Lebanese nationals to Syria, who are
later held either without trial or after unfair trials," the group said.
Remon Suweidan was one of those released in 1998. Along with his brother
Michelle, he was held in Syrian jails for over five years. "We never had
access to a lawyer. I was taken to a military court. At first, they accused
me of involvement in Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. I told them that
this was impossible since I was 12 years old at the time. They then decided
to slap the accusation on me that I was a member of the Lebanese Forces
militia," he explained.
The subject of detainees held in Syria has long been taboo in Lebanon. But
in May 2005, the then Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati broke the
official silence and raised the case with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad
in Damascus. They agreed to set up a joint Lebanese-Syrian commission to
probe into the matter.
"It is the first time the issue was brought forward officially by the
Lebanese government," Nasri Khouri, secretary-general of the Lebanese-Syrian
Higher Council, told the Weekly.
Mukheiber rebuffed that claim. "There was Syrian control over Lebanon --
that is why the Lebanese government didn't open the file."
The joint commission is also looking into a Syrian demand concerning the
cases of 795 Syrians who were either killed or disappeared during the war
"It is not enough to say that this person was kidnapped by the Syrians.
Lebanon was an open battlefield; Lebanese were vulnerable to attacks and
kidnappings and so were the Syrian soldiers who were also killed and
kidnapped," Ahmed Dawa, editor-in-chief of Syria's official daily Al-Thawra
said. "Syrian officials have asked Lebanese authorities in the past [to
investigate], and gave them evidence, like where someone was arrested or
The joint commission is the first of its kind. Two Lebanese committees set
up over the past five years did not achieve any tangible results. The first
committee worked during Prime Minister Selim Hoss term in office and
concluded in 2000 that there were no Lebanese left in Syrian jails, with
families told to "accept reality despite its bitterness". However, as
Mukheiber explains, "the first and second committees failed because they
were made up of security officials who were under Syrian control. They
declared them dead yet later some were released."
When 54 Lebanese prisoners were freed in December 2000, Syrian officials
said they were the only ones left in their jails. They were released as part
of an amnesty granted by President Al-Assad. Their repatriation generated
more anger than gratitude since some of those released were declared dead by
the first Lebanese committee. Deputy Fouad Saad chaired the second Lebanese
committee between 2001 and 2003 during the tenure of slain prime minister
"The situation was that the Syrians were here, we couldn't fight them, we
could only ask them. So I took the file to President Lahoud, but he told me
if we talk about this issue now we are trying to put Syria in trouble since
the international community is accusing it of terrorism, so he told me to
put it to sleep," Saad said.
Khouri refused to comment on Saad's remarks but said that when the issue was
raised officially, there was an immediate agreement to set up a commission.
"They lie when they say they have no Lebanese left in their jails. Families
visited their children. I met someone from my village, Hasbaya, in prison in
1989. He was never released. Where is he?" Ali Abu Dehn, who spent 13 years
in Syrian jails and was released in 2000, told the Weekly.
Abu Dehn was accused of working with Israel. "Even if I was a convicted
criminal, I should have not been treated like this. I have human rights. I
have a right to a fair trial and access to my family. I didn't get any of
that. At one point when we were in Tidmor prison, we stayed five years
without knowing what was happening in the world," Ali said.
Families of those missing are pinning their hopes on the change in political
climate in Lebanon following the withdrawal of Syrian forces. And they are
making clear if the Syrian authorities do not cooperate, they intend to
internationalise the case.
"We met UN officials and they understood our demands for an international
enquiry. But this issue is in the hands of the Security Council which means
a political decision is needed, and a request from the Lebanese government,"
Not all agree. Khouri believes the issue should be solved bilaterally since
the joint commission has started work in earnest. Mukheiber, however, warned
Syria to cooperate. "The file won't just go away until the truth is found,"
he said. "It could reach an international tribunal."
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