QUESTION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF ALL PERSONS SUBJECTED TO
ANY FORMS OF DETENTION OR IMPRISONMENT
Written statement submitted by Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental
organization in special consultative status
The Secretary-General has received the following written statement, which is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1296 (XLIV).
[6 March 1997]
7. Human Rights Watch is concerned that Israel is holding at least 21 Lebanese in extended periods of detention, either without charge or trial or long beyond the expiration of their sentences. Among the Lebanese who have never been charged or tried are two prominent Shi’a leaders, Sheikh Abd al-Karim Obeid and Mustafa al-Dirani, who were abducted from their homes in 1989 and 1994 respectively, and have since been held incommunicado. Officials of past Israeli governments have conditioned the release of these two leaders on the release of, or the acquisition of information about, Israeli service persons missing in Lebanon (MIAs). Israeli officials also indicated more generally that the release of other Lebanese detainees was linked to the issue of Israeli MIAs. In holding detainees in this fashion, Israel has failed to place them under any regime of legal protection, either under humanitarian or international human rights law. Moreover, the transport by Israel of these detainees across international borders has complicated the issue of family visits, which are at best infrequent and in some cases non-existent.
8. The prohibition of hostage-taking is absolute and cannot be justified by the actions of other parties to a conflict. Insofar as Israel conditions the release of Lebanese detainees on securing information from third parties about Israeli MIAs, those detainees are being held as hostages. Human Rights Watch calls on the Commission to urge their unconditional release or that they be charged immediately with recognizable criminal offences and afforded a trial with full due-process guarantees.
9. Where a detainee’s family visits have been rendered difficult or impossible owing to restrictions on travel between Israel and Lebanon, the Commission should encourage the Governments of Israel and Lebanon to cooperate in facilitating these visits. Israel must also end the incommunicado detention of detainees, including Obeid and al-Dirani, and allow visits to them by relatives, lawyers, and/or non-governmental organizations.
10. Lebanese citizens and Palestinian refugees continue to be apprehended by the Syrian security forces in Lebanon and transferred to Syria for imprisonment without charge or trial. The Lebanese security forces have sometimes participated in the handover of these persons to the Syrians and, according to testimony provided by former prisoners in 1996, some have been tortured in Lebanon while in Syrian custody prior to transfer to Syria. While some families have been permitted visits in Syria, others do not know where their relatives are being held or if they are dead or alive.
11. We call on the Commission to request that the Government of Syria disclose publicly the names of all non-Syrians currently in custody in Syria, including the names of the prisons and detention facilities where they are being held, and permit visits by family members and lawyers without delay. The Commission should also urge that the Syrian judicial authorities determine, on a case-by-case basis, if these individuals have been subjected to unlawful arrest or detention. In such cases individuals should be released immediately. Where individuals have been lawfully arrested and detained in Syria, they should be promptly charged with recognizable criminal offences and afforded a trial with full due-process guarantees, or released.