"Lebanese Detained in Syria"
Human Rights Watch Press Release
26 January 1998
Attached is a letter that the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch sent today to French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine, on the occasion in France (January 26-February 1) of the Week of Action and Support for Lebanese Detainees in Syrian Prisons.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
350 5th Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, New York 10118
26 January 1998
His Excellency Hubert Vedrine
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
I am writing on the occasion of the "Week of Action and Support for Lebanese Detainees in Syrian Prisons" in France from January 26 to February 1, 1998. Human Rights Watch applauds this important initiative by Lebanese and French human rights activists and organizations. It is our hope that this effort will focus the attention of your government, which has a close bilateral relationship with Syria, on the need to bring to an end the continuing problem of "disappearances" in Lebanon at the hands of Syrian security forces.
The humanitarian dimension of the problem is particularly troubling. While some families have learned through unofficial channels of the whereabouts of their relatives, and have even visited them in detention, other families have had no contact or news, and do not know if their loved ones are dead or alive.
In a report that Human Rights Watch issued in May 1997, entitled "An Alliance Beyond the Law: Enforced Disappearances in Lebanon," we urged the Syrian government to bring this unconscionable practice to an end by disclosing the names of all non-Syrians who are detained in Syria and revealing where they are currently being held. We further recommended that the government provide information about the legal basis for the imprisonment of these individuals, and that it release immediately and unconditionally all those who have been unlawfully or arbitrarily detained.
Between 1995 and 1997, Human Rights Watch documented cases of "disappearances" in Lebanon, which included stateless Palestinians as well as Lebanese citizens. In all cases, Syrian security forces, sometimes with the support and cooperation of their Lebanese counterparts, took individuals into their custody on Lebanese soil and transferred them to Syria. Family members and lawyers were unable to obtain any form of official acknowledgment from Lebanese or Syrian authorities about these arrests or abductions, or the whereabouts of those who were "disappeared," placing these persons outside the protection of the law. Lebanese government officials have either publicly professed ignorance of the problem or privately acknowledged to family members that they are powerless to address it.
Human Rights Watch respectfully urges the French government to raise formally with Syrian authorities, at the highest levels and as an urgent matter, the unacknowledged detention of non-Syrian nationals in Syria. As well as urging the disclosure of the names and whereabouts of these detainees, the French government should also seek a commitment from the Syrian government to cease this practice immediately. We further recommend that the Syrian government be encouraged to adopt the following five measures to ensure that in the future no one will be subjected to "disappearance" or arbitrary arrest:
Thank you in advance for your attention to our concerns, and I look forward to a reply
at your earliest convenience.
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch