Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Amnesty International report on Lebanon's military court

Sahar Mandour writes here about what it's like in Lebanon's military court. Excerpt:

Sahar Mandour is Amnesty International’s Researcher on Lebanon and has been attending a historic torture trial at the country’s Military Court examining the death in custody of Syrian refugee Bashar Abed Saud, following claims of torture at the hands of State Security Agency members. The fifth session and expected verdict is scheduled for 5 July. She’s determined to seek justice, truth and reparation for Bashar’s family. Here, she recounts her insights into a trial process dominated by the Military.

As I stood in front of the Military Court on 16 December 2022, I felt a mixture of bravery and fear. I felt brave, because I had made a formal request to the Military to attend this court session, and fearful, as I didn’t receive approval but decided to show up anyway and request it in person. Although court sessions are supposed to be open to the public, in practice, showing up without prior approval could be viewed as defiant and put me on their radar. . . .

By the fourth session, all the defendants had been released from detention, including the “angry officer” accused of carrying out the beating.

The judge informed the prosecution that Bashar’s family had dropped charges against the officers. There have been whispers that Bashar’s family had been intimidated into dropping the charges. Who could blame them?

As we await the verdict on 5 July, one thing is patently clear: this trial is not about justice for Bashar and his family, but more an internal disciplinary process for the military to protect and punish, differentiate between “honest mistakes” and shameful behaviour, and reaffirm that military discipline is above critique.

There is never any justification for torture. Suspected perpetrators of torture must be held accountable in independent and impartial proceedings that meet international fair trial standards. The Military Court does not meet these requirements and its jurisdiction over criminal cases, like the jurisdiction of any military court or commission, should always be limited to trials of military personnel for breaches of military discipline. For Lebanese authorities to be serious about eliminating torture in detention facilities, they must refer such cases to ordinary civilian courts, regardless of the accusations against victims of torture, whether terrorism, arm smuggling, drug use, or simple agitation in an interrogation room.

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