Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The penal code prohibits using acts of violence to obtain a confession or information about a crime, but the judiciary rarely investigated or prosecuted allegations of such acts. In September 2017 parliament approved a revised law against torture designed to align the country’s antitorture legislation better with the UN Convention Against Torture. The law prohibits all forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that security officials mistreated detainees.
Human rights organizations reported that incidents of abuse occurred in certain police stations. The government denied the systematic use of torture, although authorities acknowledged violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations at police stations or military installations where officials interrogated suspects without an attorney present.
In a July 15 report released by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), local actor Ziad Itani alleged that officers from the General Directorate of State Security (GDSS) detained him incommunicado for six days in November 2017 and subjected him to torture until he confessed to collaborating with an Israeli agent. According to the report, Itani claimed that GDSS officers held him in a room designed for torture in an unknown location where they repeatedly beat and kicked him, hung him in a stress position, and used electrical cables to beat him, including on his exposed genitals. GDSS officers also allegedly threatened Itani and his family with rape and physical violence. The report claimed that Itani reported the torture to the Military Court during his first hearing in December 2017, but the judge failed to investigate the allegations as required by law. On May 29, the presiding judge dismissed the case against Itani after concluding the evidence against him appeared to be fabricated. Authorities subsequently charged a high-ranking police official for conspiring to fabricate evidence against Itani. After his release Itani visited Prime Minister Hariri who declared his arrest was based on “wrong information.” There were no reports that officials launched an investigation of the GDSS officers involved.
Although human rights and LGBTI organizations acknowledged some improvements in detainee treatment during the year, these organizations and former detainees continued to report that Internal Security Forces (ISF) officers mistreated drug users, persons involved in prostitution, and LGBTI individuals in custody, particularly through forced HIV testing, threats of prolonged detention, and threats to expose their status to family or friends.
One civilian employee of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was accused of sexual exploitation in March 2017. The incident was alleged to have taken place in 2014 or 2015. According to the United Nations, the accused individual resigned after being placed on administrative leave without pay. An Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation substantiated the allegation in late 2017, and the United Nations placed a note of the outcome in the subject’s Official Status File.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions were often overcrowded, and prisoners sometimes lacked access to basic sanitation. As was true for most buildings in the country, prison facilities were inadequately equipped for persons with disabilities.
Physical Conditions: As of October there were approximately 9,000 prisoners and detainees, including pretrial detainees and remanded prisoners, in facilities built to hold 3,500 inmates. Roumieh Prison, with a designed capacity of 1,500, held approximately 3,250 persons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. ISF statistics indicated that the prisons incarcerated more than 1,000 minors and approximately 300 women. The ISF incarcerated women at four dedicated women’s prisons (Baabda, Beirut, Zahle, and Tripoli).
Conditions in overcrowded prisons were poor. According to a government official, most prisons lacked adequate sanitation, ventilation, and lighting, and authorities did not regulate temperatures consistently. Prisoners lacked consistent access to potable water. Roumieh prisoners often slept 10 in a room originally built to accommodate two prisoners. Although better medical equipment and training were available at Roumieh, basic medical care suffered from inadequate staffing, poor working conditions, and extremely overcrowded medical facilities. Some NGOs complained of authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care to prisoners, which may have contributed to some deaths. The ISF reported that none died of police abuse, and there were no cases of rape in prisons during the year. During the year 12 prisoners died of natural causes and one prisoner died of a drug overdose.
There were reports that some prison officials engaged in sexual exploitation of female prisoners in which authorities exchanged favorable treatment such as improved handling of cases, improved cell conditions, or small luxuries like cigarettes or additional food to women willing to have sex with officials.
Administration: The ISF’s Committee to Monitor Against the Use of Torture and Other Inhuman Practices in Prisons and Detention Centers conducted 110 prison visits as of October. Parliament’s Human Rights Committee was responsible for monitoring the Ministry of Defense detention center. The minister of interior assigned a general-rank official as the commander of the inspection unit and a major-rank official as the commander of the human rights unit. The minister instructed the units to investigate every complaint. After completing an investigation, authorities transferred the case to the inspector general for action in the case of a disciplinary act or to a military investigative judge for additional investigation. If investigators found physical abuse, the military investigator assigned a medical team to confirm the abuse and the judge ruled at the conclusion of the review. As of October there were no complaints reported to the ISF committee. According to the ISF Human Rights Unit, in the course of its own investigations, the ISF took disciplinary action against officers it found responsible for abuse or mistreatment, including dismissals, but it did not publicize this action.
During the year authorities arrested an ISF prison officer on charges of sexual abuse against an inmate. The case was ongoing as of October.
Families of prisoners normally contacted the Ministry of Interior to report complaints, although prison directors could also initiate investigations. According to a government official, prison directors often protected officers under investigation. Prisoners and detainees also have the ability to report abuse directly to the ISF Human Rights Unit.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison and detention conditions by local and international human rights groups and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and such monitoring took place. The ICRC regularly visited 23 prisons and detention centers.
Nongovernmental entities, such as the FTO Hizballah and Palestinian nonstate militias, also reportedly operated unofficial detention facilities. On August 19, local media published leaked photos purportedly showing entrances to several secret, Hizballah-run prisons in Beirut’s southern suburbs where Hizballah allegedly held, interrogated, and tortured detainees.
Improvements: ISF training and corrections staff continued to institutionalize best practices to protect human rights through developing and implementing standard operating procedures, and modifying hiring practices and training programs to improve professionalization among new officers.
On June 25, the country’s State Prosecutor ordered judges to cease prosecution of drug users before providing them the opportunity to participate in a treatment program; NGOs and international organizations cited the prosecution of drug users as a factor contributing to extended pretrial detention and overcrowding in prisons and detention centers.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. The law requires judicial warrants before arrests except in cases of active pursuit. Nonetheless, NGOs and civil society groups alleged some incidents of the government arbitrarily arresting and detaining individuals, particularly refugees and migrant workers. Typically, these detentions were for short periods and related to administrative questions associated with the residency or work status of these populations, often lasting between several hours to one or more days.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISF and the Directorate of General Security (DGS), and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The ISF, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement, while the DGS, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for border control. The LAF, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but authorized to arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds; it also arrested alleged drug traffickers. The GDSS, reporting to the prime minister through the Higher Defense Council, is responsible for investigating espionage and other national security issues.
Each security apparatus has its own internal mechanisms to investigate cases of abuse and misconduct. The ISF code of conduct defines the obligations of ISF members and the legal and ethical standards by which they must abide in performing their duties. NGOs and human rights advocates alleged that officers in various security forces enjoyed a degree of implicit impunity for violations, particularly because the Military Court typically hears cases against them. NGOs argued this practice contradicts the antitorture law. Some agencies, however, stated they took steps to increase accountability. For example, according to government officials and legal advocacy organizations, the ISF Inspector General investigated officials suspected of official wrongdoing, subjecting them to arrest and disciplinary measures ranging from suspensions and reassignments to criminal prosecution, although it has not made case details public.
The Ministry of Interior has a human rights unit to enhance and raise awareness about human right issues within the ISF, train police officers on human right standards, and monitor and improve prison conditions. The Ministry staffed the department with four officers, including the department’s head, and 15 noncommissioned officers. The department and its leadership maintained high standards of professionalism.
The ISF administers a complaint mechanism allowing citizens to track complaints and receive notification of investigation results. Citizens may file formal complaints against any ISF officer in person at a police station, through a lawyer, by mail, or online through the ISF website. At the time an individual files a complaint, the filer receives a tracking number that may be used to check the status of the complaint throughout the investigation. The complaint mechanism provides the ISF the ability to notify those filing complaints of the results of its investigation.
The ISF human rights unit continued its collaboration with NGOs, civil society, and other stakeholders to improve and advise on human rights procedures and policies and to increase accountability.
The LAF has a human rights unit that engaged in human rights training through various international organizations. The unit worked to assure that the LAF operated in accordance with major international human rights conventions and coordinated human rights training in LAF training academies. The LAF human rights unit also worked with international NGOs to coordinate human rights training and policies, and it requested the creation of legal advisor positions to embed with LAF combat units and advise commanders on human rights and international law during operations. The unit also has responsibility for coordinating the LAF’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
During the year 60 LAF officers participated in intensive human rights-focused training. The LAF Directorate of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights produced a card with applicable human rights and law of armed conflict guidance, requiring soldiers to carry it to strengthen compliance with LAF human rights policies and procedures.
UN Security Resolutions 425 and 426 established UNIFIL in 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from the southern region of the country, restore peace and security, and assist the government in restoring its authority over its territory. UN Security Resolution 1701 stated UNIFIL was to monitor cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizballah after their 2006 war, accompany the LAF in deploying to the South Litani Sector, assist in providing humanitarian access to civilians, or the safe return of displaced, as well as assist the government in securing its borders.
Despite the presence of Lebanese and UN security forces, Hizballah retained significant influence over parts of the country. Neither the LAF nor the ISF controlled or attempted to control the interiors of 11 of 12 Palestinian camps in the country. The LAF, however, maintained positions around the camps and monitored movements into and out of them (except Nahr el-Bared camp). Joint committees of armed Palestinian factions provided collectively for their internal security, and there was coordination with the government and the LAF.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides the right to a medical examination and referral to a prosecutor within 48 hours of arrest. The law requires that officials promptly inform individuals of the charges against them, and authorities generally adhered to this requirement. If authorities hold a detainee longer than 48 hours without formal charges, the arrest is considered arbitrary, and authorities must release the detainee or request a formal extension. The code of criminal procedures provides that a person may be held in police custody for investigation for 48 hours, unless the investigation requires additional time, in which case the period of custody may be renewed for another 48 hours.
The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges filed against them. A suspect caught in the act of committing a crime must be referred to an examining judge, who decides whether to issue an indictment or order the release of the suspect. By law bail is available in all cases regardless of the charges, although the amounts required may be prohibitively high.
The code of criminal procedures states that from the moment of arrest a suspect or the subject of a complaint has the right to contact a member of his family, his employer, an advocate of his choosing, an acquaintance, or an interpreter, and undergo a medical examination on the approval of the general prosecutor. It does not, however, mention whether a lawyer may attend preliminary questioning with the judicial police. In practical terms the lawyer may not attend the preliminary questioning with judicial police. Under the framework of the law, it is possible to hold a suspect at a police station for hours before allowing the individual to exercise the right to contact an attorney. If the suspect lacks the resources to obtain legal counsel, authorities must provide free legal aid. The law does not require the judicial police to inform an individual who lacks legal counsel that one may be assigned through the Bar Association, whether in Beirut or Tripoli.
The law does not require authorities to inform individuals they have the right to remain silent. Many provisions of the law simply state that if the individuals being questioned refuse to make a statement or remain silent, this should be recorded and that the detainees may not be “coerced to speak or to undergo questioning, on pain of nullity of their statements.”
The law excludes from this protection suspects accused of homicide, drug crimes, endangerment of state security, violent crimes, crimes involving terrorism, and those with a previous criminal conviction.
Authorities may prosecute officials responsible for prolonged arrest on charges of depriving personal freedom, but they have rarely filed charges.
Authorities failed to observe many provisions of the law, and government security forces, as well as extralegal armed groups such as Hizballah, continued the practice of extrajudicial arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention. Additionally, the law permits military intelligence personnel to make arrests without warrants in cases involving military personnel or involving civilians suspected of espionage, treason, weapons possession, or terrorism.
Arbitrary Arrest: According to local NGOs, cases of arbitrary detention occurred, but most victims chose not to report violations against them to the authorities. NGOs reported that most cases involved vulnerable groups such as refugees, drug users, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers. Civil society groups reported authorities frequently detained foreign nationals arbitrarily.
Pretrial Detention: The law states the period of detention for a misdemeanor may not exceed two months. Officials may extend this period by a maximum of two additional months. The initial period of custody may not exceed six months for a felony, but the detention may be renewed. Due to judicial backlogs, pretrial detention periods for felonies may last for months or years.
Pretrial detention periods were often lengthy due to delays in due process. The ISF did not report the number of prisoners in pretrial detention. As of October there were approximately 9,000 detainees, between sentenced offenders and those awaiting trial. In August 2017 the ISF reported more than 4,000 pretrial detainees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about arbitrary pretrial detention without access to legal representation. Some pretrial detention periods equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. According to a study by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, detainees spent one year on average in pretrial detention prior to sentencing. Individuals accused of murder spent on average 3.5 years in pretrial detention. Some Lebanese Sunni militants, detained after returning from fighting in Syria, have remained in pretrial detention for more than five years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, authorities subjected the judiciary to political pressure, particularly in the appointment of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. Persons involved in routine civil and criminal proceedings sometimes solicited the assistance of prominent individuals to influence the outcome of their cases.
The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally sought to enforce this right.
Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be promptly informed of the charges against them. Trials are generally public, but judges have the discretion to order a closed court session. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and to question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation; however, interpreters were rarely available. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; they have the right of appeal.
The Military Court has a permanent tribunal and a cassation tribunal. The latter, composed of civilian judges, hears appeals from the former. The Military Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the military and police, as well as those involving civilians accused of espionage, treason, weapons possession, and draft evasion. It also may try civilians on security charges or for violations of the military code of justice, which also applies to civilians. Defendants on trial under the military tribunal have the same procedural rights as defendants in ordinary courts. While civilian courts may try military personnel, the Military Court often hears these cases, including for charges unrelated to official military duty. Human rights activists raised concerns that such proceedings created the potential for impunity. Although the military and civilian courts follow the same appellate procedures, human rights groups expressed concerns that Military Court proceedings were opaque, lacked sufficient due process assurances, and afforded inadequate review of court decisions.
Governance and justice in the Palestinian camps varied greatly, with most camps under the control of joint Palestinian security forces representing multiple factions, while local militia strongmen heavily influenced others. Essentially, Palestinian groups in refugee camps operated an autonomous system of justice mostly invisible to outsiders and beyond the control of the state. For example, local popular committees in the camps attempted to resolve disputes through informal mediation methods but occasionally transferred those accused of more serious offenses (for example, murder and terrorism) to state authorities for trial.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but plaintiffs seldom submitted civil lawsuits seeking damages for government human rights violations to it. During the year there were no examples of a civil court awarding a person compensation for such violations. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions. The country has reservations on individual complaints under any human rights treaty, body, or special procedure. Appeals to international human rights bodies are accessible only after exhausting all domestic remedies.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, but authorities interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government. There were reports that security services monitored private email and other digital correspondence. On January 8, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and mobile security firm Lookout reported a spyware campaign operating from servers they identified as belonging to DGS. According to the report, since 2012 the campaign targeted the communications and activities of users in several countries, including Lebanese journalists and activists, by installing malware from fake versions of secure Android apps such as WhatsApp.
The law provides for the interception of telephone calls with prior authorization from the prime minister at the request of the minister of interior or minister of defense.
Militias and non-Lebanese forces operating outside the area of central government authority also frequently violated citizens’ privacy rights. Various nonstate actors, such as Hizballah, used informer networks, telephone, and electronic monitoring to obtain information regarding their perceived adversaries.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were responsive in some instances to these groups’ views; however, there was limited accountability for human rights violations.
Government Human Rights Bodies: Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights struggled to advance legislative proposals to make legal changes to guide ministries in protecting specific human rights or, for example, improving prison conditions. The State Ministry for Human Rights supported human rights legislation and engaged with NGOs and international organizations, but lack of an official budget or staff limited it.