Human Rights Watch (HRW) has renewed its calls for an independent and transparent investigation into the recent deaths of Syrians in Lebanese army custody, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment of the detained.
On June 30, the Hezbollah militias and units of the Lebanese army conducted violent, mass raids on Syrian refugee camps in the Lebanese town of Arsal. The raids resulted in the death of 19 refugees, while 10 more reportedly died later under torture in the custody of the Lebanese army. Over 350 refugees were detained during the raids.
In a news release published on Thursday, HRW said it had written to the Lebanese military on July 10 to verify the number of those arrested, injured, or killed during the army raids; those still in custody; and the conditions of their detention, but has not received a response.
The watchdog group also said it had requested permission to enter Arsal to interview witnesses, but has not received permission. An army officer told HRW that the army was not allowing “media organizations” to enter Arsal.
“Impunity for violence is a recurring problem in Lebanon. Even when officials have initiated investigations into deaths, torture, or ill-treatment, they have often not been concluded or made public,” HRW said.
“Under international law, Lebanon has an obligation to investigate deaths in custody and hold those responsible to account.”
HRW went on to say that it has received 28 photographs of three of the deceased men, taken at the Elias Hrawi government hospital in Zahle from the law firm representing the families of the deceased.
The rights group cited Dr. Homer Venters, director of programs at Physicians for Human Rights, who has expertise in documenting torture. After reviewing the photographs, Venters said that “the photos reveal widespread physical trauma of the upper and lower extremities. The lack of defensive wounds suggests that these injuries were inflicted while the victims were restrained or otherwise incapacitated.”
“The distribution of these injuries are consistent with inflicted trauma in the setting of physical torture,” Venters said. “Any statement that the deaths of these individuals was due to natural causes is inconsistent with these photographs.”
HRW also said it has spoken with five former detainees from Arsal who said “they were detained without charge for four to five days. They said soldiers handcuffed them, hooded them with their shirts, put them on the ground in the sun, and stomped or hit anyone raising their head.”
“They beat people, some with batons, others with the butt of a gun,” one former detainee said. “I saw one soldier on the outside poking one of the detainees from the window with a bent skewer. He beat him, then he started cutting his face…until blood came out.”
A witness in Arsal told HRW that he has seen 34 former detainees with marks on their hands, legs, and backs, and in one case, on a former detainee’s head. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)