Wednesday, May 20, 2015

History of Lebanon's military court: is reform in the works?

The current controversy over the lenient sentence awarded to former Lebanese cabinet minister Michel Samaha has sparked new interest in the country's military court. Aspects of the court's history are summarized in this article. Excerpt:
On Nov. 19, 1947 Abdallah al-Yafi, a lawyer who would go on to serve as prime minister of Lebanon 12 times, convened a meeting of Parliament’s Committee of Administration and Law. The session was dedicated to studying an amended version of the Code of Military Justice. Leafing through the document, Yafi made remarks that would come to encapsulate the principal critique of the military justice system expounded by human rights activists six decades later. “I would like the government to tell us the rationale behind these amendments,” Yafi said, according to the meeting minutes. “I notice that these amendments tend to enlarge the prerogatives of the military courts, [but in reality] the military courts are courts of exception and should only be given large prerogatives during times of war.”

The amendments were made, giving the military courts jurisdiction over matters pertaining to the everyday lives of Lebanese. In time, the court would preside over a wide spectrum of cases, from those relating to top national security matters, to car accidents and theft.

Sixty-eight years after Yafi uttered his observations, critics of Lebanon’s military court system see the political outcry over the controversial ruling handed to former Minister Michel Samaha as a golden moment to push a reform campaign while political interest is still on their side.
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For Riad Matar, a lawyer who has represented clients in military court cases for over 20 years, “dissolving the military court is impossible, we have to accept that. But you can amend it to focus only on cases involving military personnel.”

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