Wednesday, February 1, 2017

It shouldn't be this hard to observe a trial

Human Rights Watch's Lama Fakih has written this report on the difficulty of observing military trials in Lebanon. Excerpt:
Military court hearings are ostensibly public. But because the court is inside a military zone, human rights organizations, journalists, and the general public are not free to enter and monitor these trials without prior permission. This inhibits the ability of independent observers to monitor due process violations and obscures the number of civilians tried before the courts. That number is not public, but according to the Union for Protection of Juveniles in Lebanon, 355 children were tried before the military courts in 2016 alone. 
On December 14, we submitted a request to the president of the Military Court for permission to monitor the protesters’ trial. We never received a response. But this morning, an army guard at the court entrance told me, “Court proceedings here are not monitored. It’s not allowed.” We were only able to enter the court after a journalist I was with called a military officer, who then reached out to the president of the court. For his part, the president said that he never received our request and insisted that, in the future, we should speak with him directly for permission to enter the court. 
The process I went through makes clear that these courts are not open to the general public. 
There is a real need for greater scrutiny of military trials. During the three hours I was there, I observed dozens of people come before the court. In many cases, they did not have lawyers with them, and so accepted court appointed counsel. Their cases, however, proceeded on the spot, with defendants responding to questions from the bench without the chance to consult with lawyers and before lawyers could study the case files.

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