Tragedy Of The Lebanese Detainees In Syria
By: Elias Bejjani
LCCC Media Chairman & Spokesman for the  CLHRF

Point a gun at their heads. Threaten them. Beat them. They will not cower. They are hungry for answers. For justice. They are as steadfast as the cedars themselves, despite any and all efforts of ruthless guards to uproot them.
The organization Support of Lebanese  in Detention & Exile (SOLIDE) which works on behalf of hundreds of Lebanese nationals who are arbitrarily detained in Syria, and the detainees' families have been demonstrating weekly in Beirut, for the last nine weeks in front of the government building near the National Museum,  and each demonstration is timed to coincide with the convening of the Lebanese parliament. Meanwhile, none of the 28 ministers in the new Syrian-appointed Hariri government has had the courage or the patriotism to address this ongoing and unfortunate issue in any of the cabinet meetings. Not even one of the 28 ministers has acted in a humane manner to show that he has noticed the misery and pain of the families of the detainees every time he walks into the government building. Where is the minister with enough valor to convey to the cabinet the sense of despair and anguish of the families of the detainees sitting on the sidewalks of Parliament, surrounded by ruthless guards with guns pointed at their heads?

Nothing has been resolved over the last twenty years in regards to the question of the Lebanese detainees in Syrian Jails. The previous Hariri government had appointed a special ministerial committee, headed by Fouad Al-Saad, assigned to collect all data on the missing, the kidnapped and the detained. Since the resignation of that government, a committee "report" has yet to be released. The PM has yet to assign a new committee chairman, and the government has not taken any new action in this regard. Former minister Fouad Al-Saad has handed over the committee's report and all pertinent documents to the country's Prosecutor General, Adnan Adoum, who then delivered them to the office of the PM.

It is worth mentioning that before the formation of the above mentioned committee, and in a heretic stance aimed to appease his Syrian masters, General Adoum declared that the detainees,  file was closed, and there were no Lebanese detainees left  in Syrian jails. Despite his hostile and biased attitude, Adoum alongside with  Jamil Al-Sayyed (Surete Generale chief)   and Raymond Azar (Army Mukabarat Chief), were made members in the committee in a bid to obstruct its work and ensure that it reaches nowhere.

For how long will the Beirut regime keep on breaching, "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ‘Declaration for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances’ adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 1992”.

How long the committee's report and mandate have to remain secret and undisclosed to the public? And why haven't both issues moved forward and been subjected to discussion and debate by the new government? Isn't there at least one politician that has the courage to tell the PM that this pressing issue is not one to be sidelined? Isn't there a single Member of Parliament to query the cabinet ministers or the parliament about the fate of government decree 42 that was issued on 20/12/2000, creating the ministerial committee and its mandate?

Apparently the PM does not have the courage to assume his responsibilities and deal with this sensitive issue that undoubtedly will irritate his masters, the Syrians. Apparently too, the report is likely to be buried in the PM's office under hundreds of other files that are taboo only insofar as they inculpate the Syrian regime in all the atrocities, assassinations, bombings, and other Syrian "peacekeeping" efforts in Lebanon. This is an embarrassing scandal and a truly human tragedy of either deliberate atrocity or sheer neglect.

Why is the government keeping a blind eye to this issue? Are we truly living in the days where patriots do not exist and the proud are dead? Please tell us, tell the world, why is it that the Syrian regime and puppet government in Lebanon refuse to admit that there are hundreds of arbitrarily-arrested Lebanese detainees rotting in Syrian prisons!

What purpose does it serve to continually inflict pain and agony on innocent Lebanese? Who benefits from such a sadistic situation? What does Damascus really intend to achieve from this inhumane and unethical conduct that couldn't be
achieved just as easily through legal, ethical and moral means? There is no human rights covenant that permits our entire world to turn their heads to this human tragedy that has been consistently and tragically unfolding since 1975! By contrast, how many international laws is the regime breaking? Begin with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How many articles are being flagrantly and consistently violated? How is it that the free world countries, United Nations, Arab League, Lebanese leaders and clergymen who call for justice and respect of human rights, ignore, neglect and even deny the most basic God given rights and existence of these detainees? These "prisoners" rotting in Syria's jails today are nonviolent patriots: politicians, priests and youths.

Why do they languish? What crimes have they committed? They love their freedom and country so much that they willingly decried the Syrian occupation and upheld the dignity of their compatriots!That is not a crime. That is heroic. They should receive acclamation and medals, not isolation and death.

Along with its puppet Lebanese regime, Syria has many times unveiled their own lies when queried about the whereabouts of the Lebanese arbitrary detainees. Both regimes staunchly deny the presence of any Lebanese in Syrian jails, while simultaneously releasing detainees it has previously denied any knowledge of.

On 25/6/03, one of the hundreds of the Lebanese citizens imprisoned in Syria, Joseph Emile Houeiss, died in jail and his body  was shipped by the Red Cross from the Lebanese-Syrian border to Tal-Chiha hospital in Zahle where the family secretly received his body and then transferred it to be buried in the dark of night in his village Bnabil near Dhour Al-Choueir in northern Metn. The family was ordered not to open the coffin and they were afraid to do so.  Houeiss was arrested in June 1992 by the Syrian army in the Lebanese mountain village of Dhour Choueir after his car was involved in a collision with a Syrian military jeep. He was subsequently taken to Syria, in violation of Lebanese and international law and sentenced by a military court. Syrian and Lebanese authorities had denied the presence of Mr. Houseiss in Syrian detention centers. 

Suddenly on August 21, 2000 Sheik Hachem Minkara of the Islamic Unification Movement ‘Al-Tawhid’ was released from Syrian jails after spending fifteen years in arbitrary imprisonment without any kind of trial. Sheik Munkara was kidnapped by Syrian security agents from Tripoli in 1985. Before his release, both Beirut and Damascus authorities had declined to admit that he is detained in Syria. His family was asked by the Lebanese authorities several times to consider him dead, and accordingly call for a funeral and forget the whole case. His family refused because its members were sure that he is alive and detained in Syria. Sheik Minkara's release came a month after the issuance (on 25 July, 2000) of the Commission of Inquiry official report that announced all the missing dead.

Adel Ajouri who was kidnapped by Syrian security agents on May 5, 1990 while passing on the Beirut Airport Highway, died because of torture in a Syrian jail on September 23, 1999. His family used to visit him regularly at the cost of exorbitant bribes, while both regimes were denying that he is a detainee in Syria. Syria handed over Adel's body to his family after it pressured the Lebanese authorities to block any autopsy requests.

Kaytal Hayek, A Lebanese army Major, was released  by the Syrian authorities on 6 March 1998 with other 120  Lebanese detainees. It is worth mentioning that Syrian authorities before the release of these detainees had admitted to have in its jails only four out of the 120. Prior to the release of Kaytal Hayek both Syria and Lebanon had denied continuously the fact that he is in a Syrian jail. Major Hayek was kidnapped from Lebanon by the Syrian Army and held arbitrarily in Syrian jails without any kind of judicial fair trial. On his release he was suffering of tuberculosis.

It is worth mentioning that on 28 February 1998, the Syrian authorities stated and before the release of these detainees that there are no Lebanese detainees left in the Syrian jails. Meanwhile only four names out of the 121 released were known by human rights organizations, and 117 were unaccounted for. This traumatic reality shows that the actual magnitude of this human problem is much more dangerous than envisaged.

The Lebanese regime in a bid to finally abandon its responsibilities and bury its head in the sand in regards to the fate of more than eighteen thousand detainees, missing, and kidnapped Lebanese citizens, issued a decree on July 25, 2000 declaring all the 18,000 thousand dead. It asked their families under threats of cutting off social security support to take all necessary measures to ensure that the criminal decree is implemented. The families refused to abide by the regime's unjust decision and maintained their efforts aiming to unveil the truth about their beloved missing persons.

Mr. Houeiss was the fourth case in which the body of a Lebanese prisoner has been repatriated in relative secrecy.
A SOLIDE delegation traveled to Damascus on June 9/2003 to press the authorities for news of their missing relatives, but were refused an audience with President Bachar al-Assad. An earlier delegation was received in July 2002 by Interior Minister Ali Hammoud, who denied that there were Lebanese prisoners languishing in Syrian jails (dirty wars of others spearheaded by Syria has been targeting Lebanon and its people since 1975 and still going on)..
But when he was faced with the evidence, he promised a reply within two or three months. In December 2000, Syria released 54 Lebanese prisoners from its jails. The governments in Beirut and Damascus consider the issue closed, but SOLIDE estimate that up to 200 people reported missing could possibly be alive in Syria.

We will never forget, we will never relent. We will not mortgage the Lebanese future to Syria. We will be the voice of Lebanese freedom, of hope, and of persistence. We refuse to allow the detainees to languish alone, and voiceless.  The cries of their families are ours. We will uphold their noble and worthy struggle. We will fight for them in every nonviolent way possible. We will uncover and expose fully the lies of both the Lebanese and Syrian regimes. All who are culpable for status and power abuse will be punished for their inhumane crimes against the Lebanese, against their country, and against the world. You
cannot escape justice, and you cannot fool the world with your deception.

We will persevere until every last body, every last bone is returned to Lebanon. What's wrong is always available. So is what's right. We implore you to do what is right.