"Disappearances in Lebanon by Syrian Security Forces"

Human Rights Watch Press Release

29 May 1997

In "An Alliance Beyond the Law: Enforced Disappearances in Lebanon," released today, Human Rights Watch calls on the Lebanese government to take firm and transparent measures to end abuses in Lebanon at the hands of Syrian security forces, and to ensure that Lebanese military and security authorities in no manner participate in or facilitate "disappearances" on Lebanese soil. Human Rights Watch also calls on Syrian President Hafez al-Asad to make public the names of all non-Syrians -- including Lebanese citizens and stateless Palestinians -- who are currently detained or imprisoned in Syria. The 36-page report is based on information obtained during fact-finding missions to Lebanon in 1995 and 1996.

An unknown number of Lebanese citizens and stateless Palestinians are imprisoned in Syria: some of them "disappeared" in Lebanon as long ago as the 1980s. Lebanese citizens and stateless Palestinians continue to "disappear" in Lebanon, taken into custody there by Syrian security forces and then transferred to and detained in Syria, perpetuating a climate of fear. This report includes detailed information about three "disappearances" that occurred in 1997, between January and March, one that took place in July 1996, and another that dates back to September 1992. The report also includes information about "disappearances" of Palestinian residents of Beirut and Tripoli in 1995 and 1996, and testimony from Lebanese and Palestinians who were "disappeared" at various times between the mid-1970s through late 1993.

The seizures of these individuals take place outside the law. As the Beirut Bar Association reported in April 1997: "No existing legislation or bilateral treaty allows such conduct." Moreover, victims do not benefit from the protection of the law. There are no effective official government mechanisms -- in Lebanon or in Syria -- for families to learn of the whereabouts of their relatives and to seek legal remedy. Human Rights Watch has also obtained first-hand testimony indicating that Syrian intelligence forces have detained some Lebanese and held them incommunicado -- in Syrian detention facilities in Lebanon, and in Syria -- in order to pressure them to collaborate with Syrian intelligence in Lebanon.

Some 30,000 Syrian troops remain in Lebanon, as well as an undisclosed number of intelligence officers and other operatives. Syrian intelligence forces are known to maintain detention facilities in at least five locations inside Lebanon: in Tripoli in the north; in west Beirut at the headquarters of Syrian intelligence on Sadat Street, near the Beau Rivage Hotel in the Ramlet al-Baida neighborhood, an area also known as Beau Rivage; in Chtoura in the Beqaa' valley; and in Anjar, east of the Beirut-Damascus highway, near the Lebanese-Syria border. There is also a detention facility in Hazmiyeh, on the outskirts of Beirut, where a joint Syrian-Lebanese intelligence force reportedly is based. This report includes information about and testimony from Lebanese and stateless Palestinians who have been detained at these facilities.

For Lebanese Muslims and Christians alike, the phenomenon of "disappearances" is one manifestation of what many of them view as de facto Syrian control -- or "annexation" or "occupation," as they variously describe it -- of their country. Indeed, public discussion of "disappearances" is largely taboo in Lebanon, and efforts to address the problem generally, or individual cases specifically, are not undertaken. Families of the "disappeared" typically are afraid to come forward with information for fear of worsening the situation for their loved ones or putting themselves at risk of harassment or reprisal. They have been unable to secure assistance from Lebanese government officials or Lebanese nongovernmental organizations to obtain information about, access to, or the release of their relatives. Human Rights Watch wrote to Lebanese and Syrian government officials four times to express concern, to request information, and to recommend steps to remedy the problem of the continuing "disappearances." These letters -- to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in October 1996 and March 1997, and to Syrian President Hafez al-Asad in November 1996 and March 1997 -- have gone unanswered, and persons continue to be detained and "disappeared" on Lebanese soil.

The Lebanese government clearly has ceded certain police powers to Syrian intelligence forces inside Lebanon -- in practice if not also by secret agreement. By providing an effective guarantee of impunity for human rights abuses under this arrangement, Lebanese authorities must bear a measure of direct responsibility for these abuses. Lebanese complicity in abuses by Syrian forces sometimes goes beyond official acquiescence and becomes direct collaboration with Syrian forces in carrying out reported "disappearances."

Among Human Rights Watch's recommedations are the following:

To the Government of Syria

The Syrian government should apply the principles of transparency and accountability to address the problem of foreign nationals and stateless Palestinians who are detained in Syria, and to bring some measure of justice to victims and their families. Human Rights Watch urges the Syrian government to take the following actions:

To the Government of Lebanon

Initiatives by the Lebanese government are also required in order to hold Syrian security forces in Lebanon accountable for their actions. The following affirmative steps may help break the barrier of fear that has prevented families from coming forward when "disappearances" occur, and has likewise discouraged lawyers from providing legal representation and independent nongovernmental organizations from undertaking advocacy on behalf of the victims:

To the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

The Working Group should investigate cases of enforced disappearance in Lebanon, and make demarches to Lebanese and Syrian authorities in order to determine the fate and whereabouts of the "disappeared." Given the extraterritorial dimension of the practice of enforced disappearances in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch recommends that the Working Group analyze the issue in light of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and publicize its conclusions in relation to the implementation of the Declaration when there is such a dimension.

To the European Union and Member States

To the Clinton Administration