Mikati names head to latest detainee committee
By Rym Ghazal -Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 23, 2005
BEIRUT: Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati has assigned a head to the committee looking into the long-standing case of detained Lebanese citizens in Syrian prisons, the third commission of its kind in Lebanon's history.
A commission to probe into the allegations that Syrian prisons are holding Lebanese people as prisoners is set to begin this week. This probe is similar to two previous ones, one during the rule of Prime Minister Salim Hoss and another one during the reign of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
But previous probes "denied" the presence of any Lebanese detainees, and families of detained relatives say they expect the same results this time around, given the nature of the commission.
"It is no different from the previous commissions; we wanted the United Nations, Red Cross and representatives from NGOs to be involved to change the context of the commission and perhaps get different results," said Ghazi Aad, head of SOLIDE (Support for Lebanese in Detention and Exile), who has been at a sit-in protest along with families of detainees at the United Nations building since April.
This new commission that is expected to meet twice a week will be headed by Beirut public prosecutor Joseph Maamari, investigating magistrate for military tribunal George Rizk, and Interior Security Forces colonel Tark Njeim.
Officials from Mikati's office, meanwhile, said they were "surprised" by SOLIDE's disappointment.
"We met up with SOLIDE and told them about the commission right after Prime Minister Mikati's meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and they didn't raise any complaints at the time," said a spokesperson for Mikati.
Aad did acknowledge this meeting, but insists that he mentioned his "list of demands" for a more international commission to look into the case. "We are especially worried about the case given that Nasri Khouri is involved, as he is known to have relatives detained in Syria and still denies their existence," said Aad.
Nasri Khouri is the Secretary-General of the High Lebanese-Syrian Council and has been assigned the job of mediator in this commission. The commission is expected to outline their findings within a three month deadline that is "open to extension if needed," according to the PM's office.
Detainees families call for action
Government must try harder to identify Lebanese held in Syrian prisons
By Daniel Epps -Special to The Daily Star
Friday, June 24, 2005
BEIRUT: The Lebanese government must try harder to identify Lebanese detained in Syrian prisons and obtain their release, a group of relatives and friends of the missing citizens insisted. Organized by Support for Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE), the supporters held a news conference in front of the United Nations building in Downtown Beirut in response to caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati's creation on Wednesday of a new commission to investigate the detainee situation.
Parents brought pictures of their missing children with the dates of their disappearances superimposed and signs bearing the text of Article 5 of the Universal Convention of Human Rights: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Surrounded by relatives of the missing, SOLIDE leaders harshly criticized the new investigative commission's lack of representation from the detainees' families, the UN, and NGOs like the Red Cross. They said the commission's mediator, Nasri Khouri, could not be objective because, they allege, he has detained relatives whose existence he denies. SOLIDE director Ghazi Aad said that, in light of the Syrian government's recent admission that it was holding 76 Lebanese "terrorists" after years of denials, the Lebanese government should do more: "Now that [Syria has] acknowledged it, why wait? Let our government be courageous, and ask for the release of the prisoners. Or, if they are terrorists, then Syria should at least provide their names, the charges against them, and their sentences, with transparency and openness." The new commission is the third of its kind in recent years. The two before it both concluded that there were no Lebanese detainees in Syria.
Sonia Eid, mother of Jihad Eid who is believed to be a Syrian prisoner, said that the government must actually address the issues, rather than asking families to submit files to yet another commission.
Ghassan Moukheiber, deputy director of SOLIDE, provided a ray of hope for the families. He said that in his meeting with Mikati and the Justice Minister, Khaled Qabbani, the latter had agreed to create an advisory panel in line with international norms that would address SOLIDE's concerns about the commission. "We want the detainees back, dead or alive. If they're dead, we want their bodies. If they're alive, we want them back alive," said Aad said Moukheiber's comments didn't mean Syria could get rid of the problem by killing detainees: "We know from others who have been detained in Syrian prisons that there are some alive. And whether they are dead or alive, those responsible will be punished in accordance with Article 5."
While Syria has admitted holding 76 Lebanese, SOLIDE maintains a list of 800 purported detainees. SOLIDE thinks there could be far more who go unreported because family members fear reprisal.