Transgressions and Hindrance of Arsal Investigations… and Fear of New Operations
The scenes of torture, inflicted on Syrians at the hands of the security branches of the Syrian regime in the first years of the revolution, were coming back to the surface again, however this time by the Lebanese Intelligence in the camps of the Lebanese border area of Arsal, last week.
A large-scale raid was launched on the Al-Nour and Al-Karyia camps, on Friday 30 of the last June, on the pretext of the presence of terrorist elements. The raid resulted in the killing of 19 civilians and the detention of hundreds of young people under “arbitrary, barbaric and inhumane,” circumstances, according to the description of human rights observers. Four detainees were also handed dead to their relatives, while the Lebanese army said they died as a result of chronic diseases.
The Whole Story
The beginning was with the Lebanese army raiding the camps, which was followed by a statement saying that “during an inspection campaign by an army force of al-Nour refugee camp for displaced Syrians, five suicide bombers blew themselves up, resulting in injuries to soldiers.”
The Army said that “a suicide bomber blew himself up using an explosive belt in front of a patrol of the raid, which led to his death and the slight injury of three soldiers, in addition to successive suicide bombings, which resulted only in the killing of the perpetrators.”
However, sources in Arsal confirmed to Enab Baladi that the Lebanese army had the names of up to 20 wanted people, but when they called the names of the wanted and asked them to leave, no one responded. This has prompted the army to storm the camp, at five in the morning, and more than one person to blow themselves up.
The Lebanese army then demanded the evacuation of children and women after a full inspection of women. The invasion of the camp began in the midst of sabotage operations, which was described by sources as “revengeful,” killing about 20 people and arresting most of the young people, more than 350, amidst the spread of images in the social networking sites picturing the “humiliating” treatment of groups of detained refugees.
Hours after the invasion campaign, the army handed over the bodies to their relatives in the camp. They said they had died because of chronic diseases. However, the sources of Enab Baladi confirmed that the detainees, whose number amounted to about 10 people, were killed even before investigations began as a result of torture, amid the denial of the concerned authorities.
Neither Proportionality nor Necessity
The raid of the Lebanese army was not something new since a similar operation was carried out in 2014, which resulted in the death and injury of a number of refugees in addition to a huge fire, under the pretext of pursuing “armed terrorists.” This raised concerns about the red lines that could restrict the Lebanese army in dealing with the Syrian file.
“The problem is not with the invasion of Arsal camp itself, but with what is beyond it,” said the Lebanese human rights lawyer and director of The Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (LIFE) Nabil al-Halabi in an interview with Enab Baladi. He pointed out also that the Lebanese authorities have hindered investigations amid fears of the reoccurrence of the incident against Syrians.
He explained that “the massacre that took place in the camp of Arsal is due to the lack of commitment of the Lebanese army to two principles. The first is proportionality since the number of killed civilians, 19 including a five-year-old girl and a paralyzed man in the wheelchair with amputated legs, is disproportionate to whoever the person responsible for the invasion,” referring to a Lebanese army soldier who was wounded in the raid.
The second principle is necessity, which is also absent according to al-Halabi. He stressed that the use of excessive force by the Lebanese army should be in a case of utmost need that requires the removal of the camp and the killing of civilians, but this was not proven according to human rights organizations. “However, the incident was not even mentioned and the responsible people for this were not held accountable,” said al-Halabi noting that there must be an assessment by a military committee.
As for the possibility that the Lebanese army would carry out similar invasions in the future, especially with the silence of the civil and military judiciary and the total local media blackout, al-Halabi asserted: “The Lebanese army, even if charged with a legal mission to break into the camps under the pretext of fighting terrorism, must comply with international laws, regulations and standards in accordance with international human rights law and conventions (…).”
Al-Halabi said that torture was carried out during the investigation of detainees in order to withdraw confessions, contrary to the army statement which said that four detainees died as a result of their health condition before the beginning of the investigation.
This indicates revenge and hatred towards detainees, the deterioration of ethical values and serious violations, as well as a new form of torture that requires the accountability of responsible people,” said the human rights activist.
The Mystery of the Death of the Detainees
The Lebanese activist Diala Shehadeh, who is responsible for the investigation and analysis of the situation of the detained victims, was surprised that there was enough coincidence, or a “miracle” as she called it, for the death of all the detainees in one day and for the same reason.
“I think it is like a miracle that three healthy people, with the testimony of their families and acquaintances (including an anesthetist who has not already lived in the camps), die within 48 hours of their detention by the same party and in one place, all due to ‘natural’ reasons,” wrote Shehadeh in a Facebook post, after refusing to make statements for the “confidentiality of investigations.”
She added: “I do not think that there are people who believe in miracles among the Syrian refugees in any case. We believe that objectivity and truth are the basic principles of justice, and that the rule of law is based on security. We did not anticipate or preconceive and we are not biased. We just asked the judiciary to give the families of the dead people the right to know the truth.”
Investigations Face Hindrances from the Authorities
Despite an attempt by the notary to prevent her from entering the camp in order to write a judicial attorney and the difficulties she encountered during the delivery of samples to the “Hotel Dieu” hospital, Shehadeh worked on opening an investigation file on the bodies of three of the dead prisoners, as the fourth body was hastily buried by order of the army, after obtaining the power of attorney from the families of the dead Syrians. The army’s intelligence service took from the hospital the samples by force, according to a military court order. The samples were taken to the military hospital to be held under inappropriate conditions, according to lawyers and human rights activists, which may damage the samples and tissues that are taken from the dead bodies.
On the possibility of a prior intention to sabotage the samples and to manipulate the results to change the course of investigations, al-Halabi said that this “will be considered as a presumption used against the concerned parties and an evidence of the torture of detainees to death.”
If the Lebanese judiciary is unable to pursue the case, human rights institutions and lawyers, with the power of attorney given to them by the families of the victims, can take legal action against military commanders in European countries which have a thorough follow-up of these matters.
In case investigations prove the torture of detainees, which al-Halabi believes in, human rights organizations would demand judicial and criminal accountability, and not only a procedural one. That is to say, the punishment is not only administrative, according to the activist, who added: “We know that there is a crime. Torture is a crime and murder is a crime. It is not an ordinary offense committed by soldiers.”
Systematic Discouraging of Refugees from Staying … and Fear of Return
Refugees in Lebanon suffer from deplorable living conditions, both inside and outside the camps, either because of security restrictions, delays in residency permits, “arbitrary” arrests or because of fires that hit two camps last week. While some people think that fires are lit on purpose, others believe that it is the result of high temperatures.
The fires and raids have prompted many to think of the existence of a systematic policy to discourage Syrian refugees from staying, which was confirmed by the Lebanese television presenter, Beesan al-Sheikh, in an interview with Enab Baladi.
Al-Sheikh thought that the policy of expelling refugees is not exercised only in Lebanon, but in all the countries of asylum. “There is no doubt that clear efforts are made at all levels to move Syrians in the neighboring countries and Lebanon to the so-called easing-tension zones, which were agreed upon between Russia, Iran and Turkey during the Astana talks,” she said referring to what was published by the Lebanese newspaper “Al-Nahar” before the storming of the camp, under the title “Lebanese are Decreasing .. Syrians are Increasing.”
Meanwhile, al-Halabi pointed to the existence of media funding to reduce the number of refugees and to attempts by the security services, in cooperation with Hezbollah, to put further pressure on Syrians to return to the Syrian regime and to join it and the militias defending it.
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