Parliamentary committee head slams prison conditions
By Nada Bakri  -Special to The Daily Star
Monday, December 06, 2004
BEIRUT: Inhuman conditions of confinement, degrading and discriminatory treatment, denial of medical and psychological health care and "horrible overcrowding," are some of the ways the Parliamentary Health Committee has described Lebanese prisons.
Speaking at a conference entitled "The Status of Lebanese Prisons," the head of the Parliamentary Public Health, Labor and Social Affairs Committee, Atef Majdalani, criticized the abhorrent conditions in Lebanese jails.
He described them as a "violation against Lebanon, a country that has a human rights code in its Constitution and was a major participant in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."
"Sometimes up to 30 prisoners are jammed into a small cell, where they take turns sleeping, sitting or standing and share one filthy restroom infested with cockroaches and bugs causing severe hygiene problems," said Majdalani.
Majdalani has also taken note of the disturbing trends linking the spread of contagious diseases with overcrowding and the lack of health care and decent sanitation in the prisons.
"The little health care provided for the inmates usually comes from local communities, non-governmental organizations and the general committee of prisons," he said.
The right to a healthy environment and other rights such as non-discrimination, privacy and confidentiality are also being violated.
"Prison cells are extremely humid and dark, convicts don't get sun and fresh air and there is a shortage of reception rooms where they can meet with social assistants," said Majdalani.
Majdalani has prescribed a series of measures aimed at transforming the prisons standards. Proposals include the closing down of all centers inappropriately used for detention and establishing prisons in each muhafaza (district) that adhere to international prison standards and linking the responsibility of those prisons directly to the Justice Ministry.
There is also a scheme to establish a joint committee representing the interior, health, education and social affairs ministries as well as special training for prison wardens in the treatment of inmates.
MP Elie Nasr spoke on behalf of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee regarding the status of Samir Geagea, "who has spent 10 years and three months in an isolated underground cell, with no sun or air, and which measures only 13 meters by 23 meters."
"As for the other prisoner in the Defense Ministry, Gerges Khoury, he is still in jail underground and has not seen a priest for seven years now," said Nasr.
Lebanese Human Rights Institution executive director Wael Kheir also identified overcrowding as a major problem in Lebanese prisons.
Kheir suggested solutions for improving the situation such as deporting foreign prisoners - 45 percent of the prisoners in Lebanon are foreigners - freeing detainees who should be liberated, reducing the duration of pre-trial detention and introducing a general pardon law.