Friday 27 July 2007

Lebanese army at Nahr el-Bared

The Palestinian camp is under siege in north Lebanon

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Still missing

Um Tayssir, 70, was kidnapped along with her husband and her 3 little boys by the Lebanese Forces at the notorious Barbara checkpoint north of Beirut in 1982.

Her family were fleeing the capital following the Sabra and Chatila massacres. She was released but her husband and sons were kidnapped. She is still searching for them.

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.

The Turkish General Election and the situation in the Middle East

After the election of 2002, the Turkish army, whose proxies were humiliated at the ballot box, was forced to take a back seat in politics. The newly elected moderate islamist government instituted some welcome, though inadequate, human rights reforms, while privatising and attacking welfare rights as part of the process of applying for EU membership.
In this atmosphere, the anti-war movement in Turkey was able on 1 March 2003 to prevent the Turkish government allowing the US to attack Iraq from Turkish soil.
The growing chaos in Iraq gave both the motivation and the opportunity for Turkey's generals to reassert themselves. The generals launched a series of attacks and provocations against Turkey's Kurdish population.
Some attacks were open military operations, others were carried out through the dark forces of the "deep state"—gangs of ex-army officers and others, loosely connected to the army and the police.
Such provocations included a series of 17 bombings in Åžemdinli, near the Iraqi border. The perpetrators of the last bombing were caught by the local population.
Two army NCOs were arrested but have now been released without being prosecuted. Another attack included a bombing in
Diyarbak that killed 10 Kurds (mostly children) in a city park. No-one believes the attempts to blame these bombings on the Kurdish PKK movement.
The culmination of these attacks was the murder of Armenian human rights activist Hrant Dink in January 2007. Everyone involved in carrying out and planning this murder has turned out to have long standing links either with the police or the gendarmerie (part of the army).
But the generals did not get everything their own way. Without any national mobilisation, on a Tuesday afternoon, 250,000 people turned up to Hrant Dink's funeral, and shouted with one voice "We are all Armenians". This political earthquake set the generals back, but they responded by trying to build a civil base for their policies by mobilising a series of rallies against the alleged threat of islamist reaction, focussing on the election for a new president.
Even these rallies, which were enormous, did not really show support for the army. While many of those who took part were, indeed, convinced that the election of a president whose wife wears a headscarf would open the door to islamist reaction, many of them did not support the army's political ambitions or its expansionist military plans.
Trade unions and professional associations has supported the "secularist" campaign of the army in 1997. They pointedly did not support the army's campaign in 2007.
The Common Candidate Campaign was born out of the spirit of the response to Hrant Dink's murder. Its tasks became doubly urgent after the army's intervention on 27 April.
Building the campaign has been an essential part of rebuilding the spirit and unity that did such damage to Bush and Blair's attack on Iraq in 2003. Ensuring that this spirit continues will be part of the fight to stop Turkey's army intervening in Iraq or supporting any attack on Iran.

Two slaps in the face for Turkey's generals

by Cem Uzun
Turkey's voters gave two slaps in the face to the Generals who forced Sunday's early general election. The Generals had tried to stir up anti-islamist hysteria against the AK Party government and to stir up nationalism by provoking conflict with Turkey's Kurds.
Voters punished the army by giving the moderate islamist AK Party 47% of the vote compared to the 34% they won in the last election in 2002. Voters punished the social democratic opposition that has supported the army consistently by electing 24 of the 63 independent candidates from a Kurdish/Left common list, including two leading figures from the Turkish left.
This is the first time far left candidates have been elected to parliament since 1965. Some of the left candidates not elected also got substantial votes. The election was a firm rejection of the army's coup threats. It also demonstrated the possibility of significant new openings on the Turkish left.
This election victory for the "Common Candidate"campaign is a beacon of hope for the future of the anti-war, anti-nationalist, anti-racist, anti-neoliberal movement in Turkey. The unprecedented unity in the campaign has shown the widespread desire for the building a new left to take on the generals, the warmongers, the privatisers and the racists.
The successful campaign in Istanbul district 1 "the Asian side" of Istanbul, with 3 million voters, has been a great example of the strength of these joint campaigns. The candidate was Ufuk Uras, ex general president of the ODP (Freedom and Solidarity Party). Within a couple of weeks of the beginning of the campaign over 80 election offices had been opened.
The vast majority were independent, spontaneouslocal efforts, with activists digging deep into their own pockets to raise the rent for shops, installing telephones and getting to work.
The campaign drew in wide support. Many people who been out of left politics for years were drawn back into activity alongside young people entirely new to politics. There was active support from the beginning from the Kurdish population, but as the campaign gathered strength, Ufuk Uras was increasingly being invited to meetings of Alevis (a substantialreligious minority that faces systematic discrimination), CHP members dissatisfied with the CHP leadership's craven backing of the army, and meetings of other minorities.
The common candidates campaign has cut across all the establish political faultlines. Ufuk Uras stood despite initial strong opposition of the party of which he was leader, the ODP. There is a universal determination among everyone who took part in the common candidates campaigns "not to go home".
We have been able to work together, and also to win. This new alliance needs to keep up the fight after the election. Ufuk Uras made a call for the construction of a new left in his victory speech. This is bad news for Turkey's generals, and for their backers in Washington and London. It is good news for us.