17000 disappeared in Lebanon
Who are the disappeared?
There are several thousand people who are missing and forcibly disappeared in Lebanon. The greater majority of them went missing during the Lebanese war (1975- 1990) at the hands of Lebanese militias, as well as local and foreign armed groups
Disappearances continued to occur even after the war, but on a smaller scale, namely in the context of the presence of the Israeli occupation army and the Syrian army.
In Lebanon most of the missing and disappeared are civilians. Many were kidnapped from their homes, from the streets, or at checkpoints controlled by militias or foreign troops.
Apart from kidnappings, many people are thought to have disappeared as a result of mass killings and the successive rounds of violence.
Richard Salem, 22 years old, and Marie-Christine Salem, 19 years old, were going from the ofﬁce of their family enterprise to their home for lunch. They were kidnapped along the way.
Ali Hamadeh was 12 years old. He was kidnapped as he was returning from his grand-parents’ village. His mother, Nayfeh, spent months looking for him. On the night of her son’s 13th anniversary, she committed suicide.
Adnan Halwani, 36 years old, was a history and geography teacher. He was taken from his home and never returned. He is the father of two sons and has now 2 grandchildren.
Isabelle Youssef Khalaf, was 55 years old. She is the mother of 5 children.
Samia Mouhamad al Mahmoud was 24 years old. She was travelling with 3 other friends for university studies when she was kidnapped.
Mobilization of their friends and families
On November 17, 1982, families who did not have information on the whereabouts of their relatives gathered for the ﬁrst time at Corniche el Mazraa, Beirut. Since this date the families never stopped to organize sit-ins and demonstrations in order to make their voices heard and to ask for help in ﬁnding their “disappeared”.
Attempts to close the file
The Taef Agreement destined at putting an end to the Lebanese civil war made no mention of the fate of the thousands of missing persons. In 1991, the militias were disbanded and no conditions were imposed on them to provide information on the fate of the persons they kidnapped or to release any prisoners they may possibly be holding. Since the end of the war, the Lebanese authorities have adopted various measures aiming at closing – but without resolving – the issue of enforced disappearances.
The little we know about their fate...
The families of the thousands of missing and forced disappeared persons have no information as to their whereabouts or fate, or whether they are alive or dead. They have the right to know what happened to their relatives:
- If they are alive, they want their release
- If they are dead, they want their remains so that they may bury them in dignity and mourn over them
Under the pressure by the families of the disappeared, the Lebanese authorities created in 2000 a commission mandated with uncovering the fate of the missing and disappeared. Whereas the commission was supposed to «resolve» the issue of the disappeared, the only answer given to the families was a two-page summary of the final report of the commission. The Lebanese state acknowledged that there are many mass graves across the Lebanese territory. It even named three of them: the Martyrs’ cemetery in Horsh Beirut, Mar Mitr in Ashrafieh and the English cemetery in Tahwita. The Lebanese state never provided any information about the «inquiry» that led to these conclusions, and, 12 years later, it has not taken any steps to protect these sites or exhume the remains buried there.
Occasionally, remains are found by coincidence (on construction sites or archaeological sites). But the Lebanese judicial authorities, which are responsible for the exhumation and identification of bodies, fail to disclose any information on the progress of their work and about what they do with the remains when these are found.
Lebanon has the capacity to exhume the human remains that are found and identify them.
In 2005, the mass grave located on the grounds of the Ministry of National Defense in Yarzeh was opened. 18 bodies were identified through DNA analysis and returned to their families who buried them in dignity. Thus, the exhumation of all the mass graves that were recognized by the state, and the identification of the remains can be undertaken. So it is possible to address this issue if there is a political will to do so.
During its presence in Lebanon, the Syrian army and the Syrian intelligence services, often with the help of its local allies, illegally detained people. Hundreds of these detained persons were transferred to Syria where they are being secretly detained. Family associations have documented over 600 such cases. Family associations and NGOs have managed to gather strong evidence pointing to these people's detention, in addition to the testimonies of some former detainees who were released over the years from Syrian prisons.To date, the Syrian government has never acknowledged their detention, even though since 1998, more than 150 Lebanese detainees have been released from Syrian prisons.
In 2005, the families of the detainees in Syria started a sit-in downtown Beirut demanding that serious measures be taken by the Lebanese authorities. To date, the families are still there, waiting for the Lebanese State to take action.
In 2005, a joint Lebanese-Syrian Commission was created with the mandate of investigating the Lebanese detainees and forcibly disappeared in Syria. The Lebanese members transmit the list of names of the Lebanese missing persons to their Syrian counterpart which is supposed to conduct the necessary investigations and yield answers as to their fate and whereabouts. To date, the Syrian members only answered back about 2 cases. Concerning all the other cases they declared to the Lebanese members that they did not know these persons.
During Israel's occupation of South Lebanon, hundreds of people were abducted by the Israeli army and its local allies and transferred into Israel.
In recent years, several rounds of exchanges coordinated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have allowed the remains of most disappeared persons to be returned to their families. To date, there are still persons who have not been accounted for and are believed to have disappeared at the hands of the Israelis or their local allies.