The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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January 27, 2017

The Daily Star- HRW slams military court trials of civilians, January 27, 2017

BEIRUT: A new report launched Thursday by the international organization Human Rights Watch raised concerns over the regular trial of civilians before military courts in Lebanon, a practice that contravenes international agreements. The report was launched in anticipation of the trial of 14 protesters arrested during the 2015 trash crisis demonstrations against the government that is scheduled to take place on Jan. 30.
The trial of civilians before military courts is banned under the International Covenant on Civil Rights ratified by Lebanon in 1972
Following interviews with defendants, lawyers and Lebanese human rights organizations, HRW expressed concern that military courts are being used to “intimidate or retaliate against individuals for political reasons and to stamp out dissent.” While there are no exact figures on the number of civilians facing trial before military courts, the Union of Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon found that 355 children were tried before a military court in 2016 alone.
“We are concerned that prosecuting civilians before military courts does not guarantee a fair trial,” Lama Fakih, Deputy Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said at the launch. The report highlighted a number of structural factors undermining the right to a fair trial in military courts, including the high number of military judges without official legal training, the limited right for appeal following the court decision and restrictions to public access during trial.
The Defense Ministry formally responded to HRW’s observations with a letter, stating that the organization’s claims are not “based on substantiated facts” and that “the military judiciary in all of its statuses respects all national and international rules of law, especially concerning human rights.”
Commenting on the ministry’s reply, HRW representatives at the launch said they are facing an “uphill battle” but they intend to keep working with the government to improve the status of human rights in Lebanon.
Layal Seblany, a law student and one of the 14 protesters detained by the Internal Security Forces after demonstrating against the prolonged trash crisis in 2015, will soon face trial on charges of rioting, use of force against security personnel during the exercise of their duties and the destruction of property.
“We were not carrying any weapons, whereas the security forces were using excessive force against us,” Seblany told The Daily Star. “Yet, we are the ones facing a trial at the military court, not them.”
The Military Tribunal has been appointed to run the trials on the grounds that the charges involve altercations between civilians and security forces. However, human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch have expressed concerns that the large jurisdiction of the military courts is being used as a tool for intimidation or retaliation against political speech or activism.
“I am worried that the [criminal procedure] against me will make it impossible to find any job after this is over,” Seblany said. If sentenced, Seblany could face up to three years in jail and have a criminal record for another three years, which would make it impossible for her to continue her aspiration to become a lawyer or work in many other professions.
When initially arrested, Seblany claims to have been confined to an overcrowded cell without being able to contact her family or seek legal assistance. Under international law, an arrest by state authority followed by the failure to acknowledge an individual’s arrest is tantamount to enforced disappearance.
Lawyers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported having to use personal connections to locate clients in military detention and not being able to reach their defendants before the first court session. In some cases, lawyers say their clients have already been tortured into giving a confession that is subsequently used against them in court.
“Public opinion is commonly in favor of torture because it believes that it is only used against terrorists,” George Ghali, Program Manager at the human rights organization Alef who spoke at the report launch, told The Daily Star. “We want to spread the message that this is not true and that anyone can be victim of torture.”
Human Rights Watch documented several cases in which the coerced confession was the only evidence of guilt presented by the prosecution. This includes the case of Haitham, a fifteen-year-old Syrian refugee boy, whose marks of torture were not taken into account by the military court judge. “He admitted to everything, to crucifying Christ, to killing the prime minister,” his lawyer said, according to the report.
Once sentenced by a military court, defendants have the right to appeal only in case of procedural error or inconsistencies. Torture allegation or the trial’s outcome are not considered grounds for appeal.
Human Rights Watch is calling on the parliament to promptly amend the 1968 Code of Military Justice to remove all civilians from the jurisdiction of the military courts. “We refuse the claim that now is not the right time because of the terrorist threat,” Fakih said.
“The removal of civilians from military courts does not undermine safety.”

Source & Link : The Daily Star

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