Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Lebanon's People's trbunal

Farah Koubaissy is one of the organisers of the tribunal. She explains why it was launched.

Can you outline for me the aims of the People’s tribunal?
The people’s tribunal has 3 main goals:
- To announce the Truth and to point the responsibilities of the war crimes during the Lebanese civil war.
- To push those who are responsible, to confess their responsibility, to give the right reparations for the victims and to declare the destiny of the missing and the kidnapped people.
- To realize the true reconciliation so that war doesn’t return anymore.

Who has been invited?
On April 14 we launched the people’s tribunal under the slogan “Yes to the annulment of the amnesty law – Justice for the Victims".

The event was called "To be remembered in order not to be repeated – It will not be repeated". Although the invitation was public, the organizations that joined the campaign were: The Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union, Nahnou Student Group, Leftist Assembly for Change, The Civil Society Current, Khiam Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture, the Union of Democratic Youth, and the Socialist Forum. The tribunal was supported by the Committee for the Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared.

Currently, we are trying to network with various organizations and individuals working on human rights and transitional justice. These include law experts to prepare the legal files, journalists, members of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, and artists.

And of course since the tribunal is public, it is necessary and elemental to expand the popular base.

Where is it taking place?
Since we are insisting on the public criteria of the tribunal, the launching took place on the cornice of Ain Al Mraysee in Beirut. Most events will be planned for open and public spaces. This is one of the main reasons why graffiti artists and musicians have joined the campaign.

Why have you decided to launch it now?
The people tribunal came as a natural response to what we considered as ignorance on the part of the judiciary in dealing with lawsuits against war criminals.

The first complaint was presented against the kidnappers of Mohieddine Hachicho, a school teacher "diseappeared" by right wing militias in 1982. Since 1991, the courts have been looking into the case and postponing it even though there are witnesses that saw Hachicho being kidnapped and who followed the kidnappers to the military base where they kept him.

The latest complaint was presented by former prisoners in Israeli jails against Samir Gaegae, the leader of a right wing militia, the Lebanese Forces. Lebanese courts refused to look into the complaint under the pretext of the amnesty given to Gaegae in 2005, following the US backed "Cedar Revolution".

The amnesty law was part of the Taef Agreement that put an end to civil hostilities in 1990. It has been criticized by most human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch who consider that war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as the massacres and killings based on identity cards perpetrated by the Lebanese warlords who are currently in government, cannot be covered by amnesty.

The people’s tribunal is the result of many years of struggles against the Lebanese ruling class that seeks to undermine our collective memory and to dissimulate the truth about the crimes committed during the civil war.

Who is supporting the tribunal?
There is no external financial support and most of the work was done by organizations who have been following the issue for years, especially the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared.

Politically speaking, there are sympathizers such as human right activists, a small number of journalists, and a few lawyers. But of course, there is no official support.

How will the tribunal work?
The people’s tribunal is a new experience for Lebanese civil society. We are learning from similar experiences applied in different regions over the world such as Argentina and South Africa.

We started collecting experiences and testimonies of witnesses and victims. These testimonies will be reviewed by legal specialists to determine the juridical responsibilities of the cases.

The complaint will be based on international conventions and treaties that Lebanon is part of, especially since they are considered to be an integral part of the constitution.

Public hearings will be held on 13 April 2008 in which testimonies will be presented. Prior to that, we will be organizing in schools, universities, public conferences. Organizational meetings are also open to all who are interested.

What do you hope to achieve?
Our goal is to push the authorities to cancel the general and the private amnesty laws in order to make the accountability process possible, to determine responsibilities, to declare publicly the destiny of the kidnapped, and to give reparations to the victims or their families.

There is an old tradition in Lebanon in which any accountability is denied. There is no culture of accountability, only the culture of forgetting. This is a tradition that we want to smash.

We are saying that from now on, our security and our lives are not a toy to play with. We are here to know what really happened and it is our right to know.

If this doesn’t occur, nothing will prevent any war to come. Today, for example, the Lebanese army declared war against a terrorist group called Fateh El Islam. We do not know who is Fateh El Islam? How did they get here? Who was financing them? All what we know is that suddenly war was declared and suddenly it stopped...

Finally, accountability is the only way to free the Lebanese society from the weight of the past. Without it, our destiny will always be in the hands of a bunch of criminals.

What has been the response from the parties or the government?
For several years the response of the government to the demands of the families' committee was to say that "all the disappeared were killed so there’s no need to search for them." The families were accused of exhuming the memory of the war that “the Lebanese want to forget” and of awakening the sensibilities of the war.

This year, the response of the authorities was to ignore the demands. The parties of the government (14 March) organized a long day, on the occasion of 13 April (the anniversary of the war) using a similar slogan. It was televised on government controlled channels and was financed and run by the same agencies that ran the Cedar Revolution. But did not question anyone, preferring empty slogans and denying responsibility by claiming that "we are all responsible". This is partly true, since, with a few exceptions, all of the ruling March 14 coalition were involved in the war of 1975-1990 or in financing it.

The traditional left was silent maybe because they share the same fears as the war criminals, since they were allied with some of them during the crimes in question.

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