Committee of the Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon
Committee of the Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon
Ideology & Goals
The Committee of the parents of the kidnapped and the disappeared is a grouping of families of those who were kidnapped and forcefully disappeared during the Lebanese Civil War. At the end of the war, the Ta’ef agreements made no mention to the fate of the thousands of disappeared persons. In 1991, the militias were disbanded without being constrained to provide any information about the persons they had kidnapped or release any prisoners they may be holding.
The Committee started working in 1982 and covers the period extending between 1975 till 1990. The wish of the families is to find and release the people still detained in Syria and Israel, and to receive the remains of the dead in order to bury them 1. Their main goal is to push the politicians to take into account and recognise officially the issue of missing people.
Though the Committee says it covers all the cases of disappearance, in reality, each association fighting for the cause of the disappeared (Solida, Act for the Disappeared, ICTJ…) tends to focus more on a specific type of disappeared. “Solide for example is more specialised in disappeared imprisoned in Syria”, explains Yves Mirman, “whereas the Committee has been created in 1982 mainly for the disappeared of the Civil War in Lebanon. But of course, as issues are interlinked, they have also the disappeared in Syria and Israel in their listings.”
Modes of actions
The Committee mainly based its actions on communication and lobbying towards the political authorities: press campaigns, letters to the President of the Republic, weekly sit-in in front of the Council of Ministers and the Parliament, conferences, meetings and creation of a fund of support. “We have been in contact with all the officials since 1982, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Ministers of Justice, the Commission for Human Rights in the Parliament”2explains Wadad Halwani. The Committee also adopted since 2009 a mode of action based on the use of law. With the trials it started supporting, and more especially in 2012 with the project of draft law, the Committee started translating its commitment through a legal lexicon.
One of the first tasks undertaken by Halwani and her colleagues after the establishment of the committee was to begin recording the names of those abducted. The Committee mainly focused on a lobbying action towards the government 3.
Meetings with political authorities were organised since the 1980’s, in view of making th eissue of the disappeared recognised officially. The state's commission of inquiry’s reports during the 1980s remained unreleased, even after the end of the war. The authorities were very reluctant to address such a sensitive problem and the state’s attitude was to encourage a form of amnesia regarding wartime years. In 1995, the Rafiq Hariri government voted a law allowing parents to declare their disappeared dead, the Committee refused that decision, asking for an offcial commission of inquiry that would look into each case, but their demand was refused. Things didn’t improve under Salim al-Hoss’ government, though the families expected it would act favourably on their demands. Even the President Emile Lahoud delayed meeting with the families. After this failure, the Committee decided to change its mode of action. It established itself as an association and started collaborating in 1999 with other associations to launch a campaign for the disappeared. Their main action was based on sensitisation and mediatisation of their cause in order to put pressure on the political power. The Committee affirms three main demands: 1) the creation of a commission of inquiry; 2) the adoption of a regime of social protection for the parents of disappeared; and 3) the proclamation of a national day for “memory”. Three months after the launch of the campaign, on January 21 2000, a commission of inquiry was offically in place, and the Committee decided to support it and provide it with information about the disappeared. It accepted the result of the report, but kept on fighting for the two other demands after the report’s publication.
The Campaign for the Disappeared stopped on the 28th of July 2000, but the movement re-emerged a few months later, in December 2000, with the release of 54 Lebanese prisoners by Syria, some of whom were declared dead by the commission of inquiry. The Committee and different human rights organisations launched a new protest campaign against the Lebanese and Syrian authorities. On December 24, 2009, they filed a petition to the State Council asking for the recognition of their right to the truth, and for access to the full report. In February 24-25, 2012, the families proposed a draft law for the missing and forcibly disappeared persons, with the support of other Human Rights organisations such as the ICTJ4. The draft law was presented at the Parliament by deputies Ghassan Moukhaiber and Zyad Qadiri, and is currently being studied by the Commission at the Parliament5.
In April 2015, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Civil War, the Committee launched a campaign of 40 days across Lebanon. They received the support of the advertising company Pikasso to display 4 billboards in every Lebanese region. “The aim of this campaign was to show that 40 years later, we are still in the Civil War, even if there are no bombings and militias anymore. There are many issues on the political, economical and social levels that have not been resolved, not only concerning the disappeared”, explains Wadad Halwani6.
The main demand of the Committee today is the collection of the families' DNA in order to help with the identification of bodies. “A full recognition from the Lebanese authorities would be the collection of the DNA of the families. The report talks about three mass graves. We need to do this collection before the families die, and we also need to identify human bones and differentiate them from animal bones when they find some on the construction sites”, explains Wadad Halwani7. The second main objective of the Committee is to make the draft law ratified by the Parliament.
The Committee works today in collaboration with the association “Search for a Common ground” for a “national inventory” of Lebanon in April 2016, that would help reviewing the social and economic situation of Lebanon since the end of the Civil War. “Every little shop or organisation conducts an inventory every year to identify what it gained or lost. In 40 years, Lebanon never did its own inventory. There is a need to do this in all fields, such as education, health, tourism, human rights… with the reports of researchers, journalists, writers", explains Wadad Halwani 8.The Committee will also launch a national petition concerning the question of the disappeared on the 30th of August 2015.
The Committee adopts two main strategies for mobilisation: the social construction of the status of victim on one hand, and the use and recourse to law on the other hand.
Fighting for the status of victims
First of all, making the status of victim socially recognised is far from being a given in itself9. For Stephane Latté in “La force de l’événement est-elle un artefact ?”, it is not the event (violent, traumatic, accidental…) that produces victims, it is the victims that produce themselves10. The mobilisation of the families in the Committee aims to formulate and raise this issue in the political debate, using specific tools of sensitisation and a moral and legal vocabulary. In the context of the post-Lebanese Civil War, the objective is to make the status of victim socially recognised despite the personal involvment of these people in the conflict. In the collective imaginary, victims are supposed to be passive11, whereas in the case of the disappeared, many of them were militants, sometimes fighters. The aim of the Committee is to depoliticise the image of the disappeared and their families in order to make them recognised as victims, not actors of conflict. For the researcher Yves Mirman, this depolitisation of the disappeared is a key issue in the strategy of the movement. “The movement presents itself as unconfessional and apolitical. The confessionnal and political belonging of the disappeared is a taboo subject, as the official argument used against the campaign is always the fear of a new civil war. That’s why the Committee works to make these sectarian divisions disappear. The opposition between innocent victims and guilty victims can’t be effective in the Lebanese case.”12.
The ambiguous role of the body in attesting to the truth
The construction of the victim status is a key part of the families' mobilisation, and the relation to the body has an ambiguous role in this process. In La Raison humanitaire13, Didier Fassin shows how victims of violence have sometimes to prove their testimonies with the marks violence let on their own bodies. “The body has become a testament of truth”. But how can this be done in the case of the disappeared, when there is no body to show evidence? In the case of the disappeared of the Spanish Civil War, Selim Smaoui shows that exhumation of the bodies played a key role in attesting and making the truth officially recognised 14. Nevertheless, the exhumation of bodies is a political act in the Spanish case, whereas in the Lebanese one, the actors try as much as possible to depoliticise the disappeared and their families. Because of the reluctance of the Lebanese State to exhumate the massive graves, the Committee had to develop other forms of mobilisation not relying on the physical evidence, but rather on discourses. As Yves Mirman explains, “Victimisation of the families is something very important in the discourse of the Committee. The story of the day of the kidnapping has a key role in this process. They describe it with many details, as if it was still important to demonstrate, as if they wanted to convince with the story.”.15
But here again, the disappearances stand in the way of the official recognition as victim, as there is no evidence of what happened exactly to the disappeared and it is difficult to claim him as dead or as a political prisonner. Yves Mirman maintains that “if a person is secretly imprisoned, he is disappeared for his family. Some persons were released in Syria after they were declared dead by the Lebanese government. How do we manage these cases? Some people were imprisoned in Israel but weren't considered disappeared, because the political symbolism behind it is very different16."
The use of rights and the law
The Committee also adopted since 2009 a mode of action based on the use of law. Wadad Halwani explains: “The case of Mrs Hashishou encouraged us to use the law for our cause. This woman lost her husband in 1982 and intended a trial in 1991 because she knew the identity of the ones responsible for his disappearance. The trial has been constantly delayed for more than 20 years. Following the example of Hashishou’s case, we started pressing charges against the State Council, but also for mass graves.”17. For Yves Mirman, the trial of Hatoum in 2006, the first trial leading to a proper condemnation, was also a great step for the Committee in its recourse to law. With these trials, and more specifically in 2012 with the project of draft law, the Committee started translating its principles through a legal lexicon: the right of the families to the truth, the right to national justice, human rights in the face of the continuous crime of forced disappearance. After 2005, the movement became tightly linked in its rhetoric to the principles of transitional justice, especially during the creation of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2007. It adopted its lexicon but kept a critical distance towards it, criticising for example the fact that the Tribunal mainly focused on Rafiq Hariri’s murder, and not on all wartime crimes. The use of law in social mobilisation can be seen as a way to strengthen and legitimise the cause through a legal lexicon that appears as neutral and universal, and is more difficult to contradict18. The use of law appears as a “formalisation of emotions”19 making it more legitimate in the political shpere.
By starting to use a legal lexicon, the Committee also contributed to defending the rule of Law in Lebanon and integrated its own cause in a broader one. For the researcher Yves Mirman, the action of the Committee contributes to a “judiciarisation of the political” 20. “They consider their commitment as a broader one for rights and justice in Lebanon. They demand the right to know, but also the right to citizenship in Lebanon.”21.
Effect on public policy
The amnesty law adopted by the Parliament on the 26th of August 1991 covers the political violence perpetrated until the 28th of March 1991, but ignores the issue of the kidnapped and the disappeared. The first official initiative concerning this question is the law of 1995 that allows the parents to declare their disappeared dead22. But the Committee refused this decision and asked for the creation of an official commission of inquiry. Until then, many reports had been ignored because most political leaders were themselves former militia leaders directly involved in disappearances23. Three months after the launch of the campaign of the Disappeared, the 21st of January 2000, the Prime Minister decided to create a commission of inquiry in order to settle the fate of the disappeared. The 26th of July 2000, after six months of investigation, the Commission declared as dead all disappeared for more than four years and whose body wasn’t found24. The Commission declared having inventoried 2,046 disappeared while the campaign of the Desappeared had announced 17,000. 25 Of the 216 disappeared considered as prisoners in Israel, the Israeli authorities assert to the Red Cross that they detain only 17 of them. As for the 167 detained in Syria, the Syrian authorities completely denied their presence in their prisons. The report also aknowledged that there are many mass graves across Lebanon. It even named three of them. But the Lebanese State never took any measures to protect these sites, nor to exhume the remains buried there.
After the liberation of 54 Lebanese prisonners by Syria in December 2000 and the resuming of the protesting movement, the Lebanese government created a new commission of inquiry, but its procedures were very criticised by Human Rights organisations. following the Syrian army's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, the Lebanese government created a new ministerial commission in order to follow up the issue with Syrian authorities.26
Until 2014, the state refused to give the report to the families of the disappeared. “They always argued that this report would give rise to the civil war again”, explains Wadad Halwani27. Nevertheless, Lebanon’s State Council made a great step on March 4, 2014 by ruling that families had the right to the truth about what happened to their missing relatives (right to know).28 For Wadad Halwani, “it is a little step, but it is not a full recognition 29. Moreover, according to the study of this report made by associations, all investigations carried out by the successive governmental committees only reached the data collection and classification stage, and the raw data hasn't been analysed in order to reach the truth. For the Committee’s activists, the investigations were superficial and fragmented.
The campaign for the Disappeared launched in 1999 was supported by around 100 associations, but only a few were actively involved. At the beginning of its action, the Committee received the support from members of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), the Association por la Défense des Droits et des Libertés (ADDL) and the Association Libanaise des Droits de l'Homme (ALDHOM), but also from left-wing activists, some of which had been committed to social movements during the 90s30, and the years 200031.
The Committee collaborates today with many Human Rights organisations such as The Committee for the Defense of General and Democratic Freedoms32, Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE), Act for the Disappeared, and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).
The ICTJ provides, for example, significant technical and legal support to the Committee, and notably helped it in the drafting of the law proposed in 2012. The idea of this draft law emerged after the ICTJ organised a trip to Sarajevo in 2011, with representatives of the families and of the Lebanese state, journalists and lawyers, in order to learn more about how the country and its associations dealt with the issue of their own disappeared 33.
In an agreement in 2012, the Red Cross also proposed its help concerning DNA collection and identification.
The Committee is mostly composed of women from very different social backgrounds. At the beginning, most members where Muslim, as the Committee was established in the Muslim Western sector of the city. A similar grouping was created in the Christian areas in the 1980s. In 1985-86, the two groups started meeting at the green line, and at the end of the war, they united into a single organisation. “The Committee is not an association with confessional affiliations, this is our main strength and we are very proud of this”, explains Wadad Halwani 34. Several attemps to insrumentalise the Committee were made by political movements, but it managed to remain politically neutral35. “Politicians can’t instrumentalise our mouvement because it always stayed out of confessional and political divisions.”36.
For Yves Mirman, the affirmation of this non-sectarian status is central in the discourse of the Committee: “The movement presents itself as non-sectarian and apolitical, and it is true insofar as all confessions are represented . The confession and the political belonging of the disappeared is taboo, since fear of a new civil war is the official argument used agasint their cause. That’s why the movement works so much on its discourses to make these sectarian divisions disappear.37
Besides the confessionnal composition of the movement, it is possible to bring out a few social characteristics of members of the Committee. Although the families of the disappeared cover very different social backgrounds, the leaders of the movement are often close to leftist movements and intellectual spheres. For Yves Mirman, this is a very common feature of social mobilisations: “We have to ask ourselves, who is the most able to mobilise people, to talk in public, to contact the media? You need a network and an experience of mobilisations for that. Wadad Halwani for example was part of leftist movements before the war. Her husband was a communist activist. She was already close to these environments, she just mobilised her network.”38 For the researcher Karam Karam in Le Mouvement Civil au Liban (2006), most of the actors of civil movements in the 1990s were members of related networks of activists.
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Campaign for the Disappeared (1999-2000).
Proposition of a draft law for the missing and focibly disappeared persons in February 24-25, 2012.
Recognition by the State Council of the right to the truth for the families on March 4, 2014.
Campaign “The fortieth of the war”, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Civil War in April 2015.
- 1. Michael Young, “Civil society and governance, moving forward. Resurrecting Lebanon’s Disappeared”, The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, p.6: www.ids.ac.uk/ids/civsoc/final/lebanon/leb2.doc[consulted the 8/19/2015]
- 2. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 3. Karam Karam, Le mouvement civil au Liban. Revendications, protestations et mobilisations associatives dans l’après-guerre, Editions Karthala, 2006, p.188-192
- 4. “Families propose draft law for the missing and forcibly disappeared persons”, article of the ICTJ website: https://www.ictj.org/news/lebanon-families-propose-draft-law-missing-and-forcibly-disappeared-persons [consulted the 8/19/2015]
- 5. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut.
- 6. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut.
- 7. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 8. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 9. About the social construction of the victim status: Sandrine Lefranc, Lilian Mathieu (dir.), Mobilisations des victimes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, coll. « Res Publica », 2009, 220 p.; Sandrine Lefranc et al., « Les victimes écrivent leur Histoire. Introduction », Raisons politiques 2008/2 (n° 30), p. 5-19.
- 10. Stéphane Latté, « La « force de l'événement » est-elle un artefact ? Les mobilisations victimes au prisme des théories événementielles de l'action collective », Revue française de science politique 2012/3 (Vol. 62), p. 409-432.
- 11. Some researchers consider the definition of the victim too limiting, excluding the people taking part in conflicts: Didier Fassin et Richard Rechtman, L'Empire du traumatisme. Enquête sur la condition de victime, Paris, Flammarion, 2007
- 12. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Yves Mirman, the 24th of July 2015, Beirut
- 13. Didier Fassin, “Une épreuve de vérité”, La Raison humanitaire.Une histoire morale du temps présent, Paris, collection « Hautes Études », Gallimard/Seuil, 2010
- 14. Sélim Smaoui, « Sortir du conflit ou asseoir la lutte ? Exhumer et produire des « victimes républicaines » en Espagne », Revue française de science politique 2014/3 (Vol. 64), p. 435-458
- 15. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Yves Mirman, the 24th of July 2015, Beirut
- 16. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Yves Mirman, the 24th of July 2015, Beirut
- 17. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 18. Eric Agrikoliansky, “Les usages protestataires du droit”, in Penser les mouvements sociaux, Olivier Fillieule, Eric Agrikoliansky, Isabelle Sommier, Paris, La Découverte, 2010; Israël Liora, L’arme du droit, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po (P.F.N.S.P.) « Contester », 2009
- 19. Christophe Traini, « Les protecteurs des animaux et le droit. Refoulement ou formalisation des émotions ? », Droit et société 2014/2 (n° 87), p. 465-482
- 20. Yves Mirman, « Se mobiliser au nom du droit au Liban : la cause des disparus », Les Carnets de l’Ifpo. La recherche en train de se faire à l’Institut français du Proche-Orient (Hypothèses.org), 13 novembre 2012. [En ligne]http://ifpo.hypotheses.org/4515 [consulted the 8/19/2015]
- 21. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Yves Mirman, the 24th of July 2015, Beirut
- 22. Karam Karam, Le mouvement civil au Liban. Revendications, protestations et mobilisations associatives dans l’après-guerre, Editions Karthala, 2006, p.188-192
- 23. Marie-Noëlle Abiyaghi, “Civil mobilisation and peace in Lebanon. Beyond the reach of the ‘Arab Spring’ ?”, in Accord, issue 24, Reconciliation, reform and resilience. Positive peace for Lebanon, Elisabeth Picard and Alexander Ramsbotham, 2012, p.20
- 24. Extract of the law in Bassam Alkantar, “Lebanon: Journey for thruth begins for families of the disappeared”, AlAkhbar English, 26th September 2014, http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/lebanon-journey-truth-begins-families-disappeared [consulted the 8/19/2015]
- 25. Webpage of Act for the Disappeared: http://www.actforthedisappeared.com/our-cause/17000-disappeared-lebanon [consulted the 8/19/2015]
- 26. Karam Karam, Le mouvement civil au Liban. Revendications, protestations et mobilisations associatives dans l’après-guerre, Editions Karthala, 2006, p.188-192
- 27. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 28. “Lebanon’s Disappeared: Ruling Consecrates Right to the Truth”, The Legal Agenda, 3 April 2013, http://english.legal-agenda.com/document.php?id=5&folder=documents&lang=en [consulted the 8/19/2015]
- 29. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 30. Karam Karam, Le mouvement civil au Liban. Revendications, protestations et mobilisations associatives dans l’après-guerre, Editions Karthala, 2006, p.188-192
- 31. Marie-Noëlle AbiYaghi, L’altermondialisme au Liban : un militantisme de passage. Logiques d’engagement et reconfiguration de l’espace militant (de gauche) au Liban, Université de Paris1-La Sorbonne, doctorat de science politique, 2013.
- 32. Michae Young, “Civil society and governance, moving forward. Resurrecting Lebanon’s Disappeared”, The Lebanese Center for Politic Studies,p.7: www.ids.ac.uk/ids/civsoc/final/lebanon/leb2.doc[consulted the 8/19/2015]
- 33. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Carmen Abou Jaoude, Head of Office of ICTJ in Beirut, in July 7, 2015, Beirut
- 34. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 35. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Carmen Abou Jaoude, Head of Office of ICTJ in Beirut, in July 7, 2015, Beirut
- 36. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Wadad Halwani, the 14th of July 2015, Beirut
- 37. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Yves Mirman, the 24th of July 2015, Beirut
- 38. Interview by the Lebanon Support team with Yves Mirman, the 24th of July 2015, Beirut