Investigation on the Fate of the Missing and Protection of Gravesites
In 2012, a consortium of civil society organizations, including ACT for the Disappeared, proposed a draft law to the Lebanese Parliament for the creation of a national commission to investigate the fate and whereabouts of the missing and forcibly disappeared. Sadly, the bill remains stalled in parliament mainly due to a lack of political will among Lebanon’s ruling cadre.
With every passing day, the goal to achieve the right to know becomes increasingly unachievable. Key witnesses are growing old and passing away, taking vital information with them, while ongoing construction work in the country has destroyed key physical evidence such as mass gravesites.
We believe there is a critical need to act now. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has fully appreciated the urgent nature of the situation and, in 2012, started collecting “ante disappearance data” (ADD) and Biological Reference Sample (BRS) from the families of the missing. The aim of developing this databank is to be able to identify human remains exhumed from potential gravesites. The ICRC has committed to handing over all ADD and BRS data that is collected to a future national commission established to clarify the fate of missing persons in Lebanon.
In 2014, to complement these efforts and to ensure the protection of the graves as well as the information related to what may have happened to the missing, ACT started its investigative project in coordination with the ICRC.
The objectives of the investigative project are as follows:
- Collect information from witnesses and former combatants on the fate and whereabouts of the missing
- Develop a database that contains information about the fate and whereabouts of thousands of missing and forcibly disappeared that can be handed over to a future national mechanism of investigation
- Locate the sites of graves and protect them from destruction
- Increase the capacity of the Lebanese authorities to manage skeletal remains
Act has committed to gathering and storing the information in an absolutely confidential manner and intends to responsibly hand over the data to an independent national investigative commission once formed.
Accompaniment of the Families of the Missing
Since 2017, ACT has worked in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide the families with a support network and holistic wide-ranging assistance. The Accompaniment Project is a psychosocial project to support and empower the families of the missing in their effort to establish the fate of their loved ones. This Accompaniment Project includes home visits, information meetings and psycho-social group sessions as well as memorialisation activities such as the “Empty Chairs, Waiting Families” project where family members design and paint a chair in remembrance of the missing person.
Check out the catalogue “Empty Chairs, Waiting Families” that displays the first chairs that were designed and painted by brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, wives, daughters, sons and even grandchildren of people who went missing in Lebanon during armed conflicts since 1975 .
ACT and the ICRC, in partnership with the Committee of the families, also support the creation and mobilisation of local committees to advocate locally for families’ right to know.
Memorialization and Intercommunity Dialogues
Since 2015, ACT launched an oral history project to collect the stories of the missing and people’s war memories. More than 300 interviews were conducted, some were audio recorded and filmed. ACT developed methodology and protocols for the collection and archiving process, with particular consideration for ethical issues.
In order to pay tribute to the missing and disappeared persons and to generate a better understanding of the conflict, ACT has created the online memorial FUSHAT AMAL (which means “Space for hope” in Arabic) that aims to reclaim the identities of the missing persons and reaffirm the right to know their fates and whereabouts.
The initiative consists of collecting information about the missing persons and dedicating a space for each of them on a digital memorial that displays - if available - biographical information, photos and information about their disappearance.
Other than being a public virtual repository of information on the missing, Fushat ‘Amal provides the families of the missing persons with the opportunity to express their personal experiences. ACT visits them in their homes and listens to their stories.
Map of Memory
In 2018, ACT launched a MAP of MEMORY where visitors can learn about the main events of the Lebanese war and watch or listen to people’s memories and experiences of the Lebanese conflicts.
ACT organizes story-telling forums where the stories collected within the project are presented to the public. The encounters are planned to allow the participants to share their stories with one another and look together for ways to work toward increased understanding of the other. It focuses on raising their awareness on the many aspects of their joint history and encourage them to acknowledge the suffering of the other.
Inter-generational Oral History Project
ACT also raises awareness among the generations who did not live through the war by engaging them in an inter-generational oral history project about the war.
After attending a one-day training the youth interview the families of the missing people and people who lived through the war to collect their stories. The stories they collect are used to create the space dedicated to the missing on the online memorial and are added to the map of memory.
These stories are also presented to the public during story-telling forums to create opportunities to hear ‘other’ voices, to initiate dialogues among groups and communities and to encourage them to develop common understanding.