The SOLIDA movement (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) wishes to respond to statements made by Lebanon's Prosecutor General Adnane Addoum and which appeared in the Arabic language daily As-Safir on February 19, 2003

The Prosecutor General stated that "The Lebanese state has not spared any effort to proceed forward with the required investigations and inquiries concerning the persons missing during the events of 1975-1990".

SOLIDA asserts that, contrary to Mr. Addoum's statements, not one serious investigation has been conducted by the authorities to determine the fate of the missing persons. Those who are alleged to be responsible for the kidnappings have not been interrogated or interviewed. No visits have been conducted to suspected burial sites of human remains present on Lebanese territory. And no requests have been made by the Lebanese government for any international mediation seeking to demand answers from the Israeli and Syrian governments regarding the fate of Lebanese nationals who have been illegally extradited to those two countries.

Mr. Addoum mentions that "Expert Commissions" had conducted some inquiries. SOLIDA notes that the commission created in 2000 by the Lebanese government, and by virtue of its composition, had neither the independence nor the required authority to conduct the inquiry. Evidence for this is that the commission quickly concluded that all persons missing for 4 years or longer could be declared dead.  Yet, less than one month after these conclusions were issued by the commission, a Lebanese national who had been reported missing since 1985 was released from a Syrian jail. More than 50 of these "missing and presumed dead" individuals re-appeared in the months following the commission's conclusions, having also been released from Syrian jails.

The second commission, created by the Lebanese government in January 2001 under pressure from the families of the missing individuals, is not any more independent than its predecessor since it is headed by a government minister and, for the most part, senior security and judiciary officials, and to which was added a member of the Beirut Bar Association. To date, this 2-year old commission has yet to issue any conclusion or even an inquiry progress report, although it continues to periodically extend its mandate every 6 months. This attitude is all the more reprehensible when it had been amply demonstrated to the commission by the families of the missing that at least some of the missing individuals are alive today inside Syria.

Incidentally, Prosecutor Addoum has commented in regards to the missing individuals who have been extradited to Syria that "in 2000 the Syrian authorities have released a large number of Lebanese detainees into the custody of the Lebanese authorities. At the same time, the Lebanese authorities have received a list bearing the names of Lebanese nationals who continue to serve prison sentences in Syria."

If indeed the Lebanese authorities have received a list of names, it appears that that list is far from complete since a number of Lebanese families who have either visited their detained relatives in Syria or hold written proof of their detention have not seen the names of their detainees on the list. To our knowledge, the Lebanese authorities have made no requests to the Syrian authorities to uncover the fate of these individuals.

The example of George Ayoub Chalaweet is a case in point. His detention in Syria has recently been declared arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Notice No. 17/2002, Syrian Arab Republic, issued 29 November 2002). He was seized in Lebanon in 1994 and his name is not on the above-mentioned list, but his family continued to visit him in Syria until 1998. The Lebanese authorities have never, to our knowledge, investigated his fate.

Moreover, Prosecutor Addoum mentions the "general amnesty for crimes committed before 28 February 1991", emphasizing that "if the crime which led to the disappearance of the victim falls under the crimes covered by the amnesty law cited above, and even if the identity of the guilty suspects has been made, it is impossible to prosecute them by reason of the general amnesty". Also, "the legal prosecution of these crimes could be made impossible by reason of the 10-year statute of limitations of Article 10 of the penal code if no legal action has interrupted the statute".

SOLIDA wishes to clarify that this approach runs counter to the applicable international law.

Amnesty cannot be issued for grave breaches of human rights, as in the case of the enforced disappearance of individuals. According to the legal interpretation of the Committee on Human Rights, such an amnesty is itself a violation of the right to effective recourse, stipulated by Article 2 of the International Pact on civil and political rights, to which Lebanon is a signatory (See for example comm. No. 322/1988, Hugo Rodriguez vs. Uruguay, July 19, 1994, A/49/40, p.5). Furthermore, Article 18 Section 1 of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (resolution 47/133 of December 18, 1992) stipulates that the authors of alleged acts of enforced disappearance "shall not benefit from any special amnesty law or similar measures that might have the effect of exempting them from any criminal proceedings or sanction." This declaration has been adopted without vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Lebanon is therefore under a judicial obligation not to enact any me as ure that would be counter to the object and intent of the Declaration.

In regards to the statute, enforced disappearances are ongoing crimes, which has the result of suspending the statute until the fate of the disappeared individual is determined. This well-established principle of international law is recognized by the jurisprudence of international control bodies and is also codified in article 17 of the 1992 Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance:

"1. Acts constituting enforced disappearance shall be considered a continuing offence as long as the perpetrators continue to conceal the fate and the whereabouts of persons who have disappeared and these facts remain unclarified.

2. When the remedies provided for in article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are no longer effective, the statute of limitations relating to acts of enforced disappearance shall be suspended until these remedies are re-established.

3. Statutes of limitations, where they exist, relating to acts of enforced disappearance shall be substantial and commensurate with the extreme seriousness of the offence"

Under these conditions, neither the amnesty law of 1991 nor the statute of limitation could prevent the initiation of legal action against the perpetrators of kidnappings who have not divulged the fate of their victims.

In regards to the "Working Group on a draft legally binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance" that met in Geneva between January 6 - 17, 2003, the Prosecutor indicated that "We believe that the position of Lebanon must be to insist on the non-retroactivity of this new instrument to be ultimately created for the enforced disappearances".

SOLIDA is bewildered by such a position that does not take into account the climate of insecurity that follows the impunity surrounding the practice of enforced disappearances in Lebanon.  This climate of impunity can only harm the growth of democracy and open the way to further serious breaches of human rights. Such a position leads one to wonder whether Lebanon is as genuinely satisfied with its policies on enforced disappearances as it claims.  Indeed, the best proof of good faith that Lebanon could offer would be for it to actively seek that the future instrument to be created by the convention fully applies to Lebanon.

Paris, March 11, 2003.