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French Version

Amnesty targets Beirut’s rights record - report says freedoms across region undermined in name of 'war on terror'

Amnesty targets Beirut’s rights record - report says freedoms across region undermined in name of ‘war on terror’
International watchdog claims Lebanon is guilty of political arrests, torture and discrimination against refugees.

The Lebanon Chapter of Amnesty International published on Wednesday highlights of the organization’s annual report, concentrating on the Middle East. The report, announced at the Press Federation headquarters in Beirut, said human rights were further undermined across much of the Middle East in the name of “combating terrorism.”

Clampdowns on freedom of expression and assembly, and intimidation of human rights defenders increased, the report said. Impunity for human rights violations continued, while victims and their families were denied justice. Judicial and extra-judicial executions, the widespread use of torture and unfair trials all occur in the region.

Lebanon had its share of violations, with reports of deportations, arrests and ill treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon continue to suffer from discrimination. Dozens of people affiliated with Christian and Islamic opposition groups were arrested for political reasons. At least 12 others were held for alleged ties to Al-Qaeda or other groups classified as “terrorist.” There were reports of torture and at least 10 death sentences, although no executions took place.

The clampdown on political dissent was evident in Syria too, with scores of people arrested for political reasons, the report said. It cited an increase in the repression of human rights and human rights defenders.

Hundreds of political prisoners remained in detention without trial or following unfair trials. There were fewer reports of torture but cases from earlier years were not investigated.

The report said that in the Occupied Territories the Israeli Army committed abuses that constituted war crimes. These included unlawful killings, obstruction of medical assistance and targeting of medical personnel, extensive and wanton destruction of property, torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, unlawful confinement and the use of “human shields.”

At least 1,000 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Army, including 150 children and at least 35 were victims of targeted assassinations. The Israeli Army destroyed 200 homes and arrested thousands of Palestinians; 3,000 still remain in military jails. At least 158 Israeli conscripts and reservists who refused to serve for reasons of conscience were imprisoned.

Armed Palestinian groups killed more than 420 Israelis, including 265 civilians and 47 children. The report said the deliberate targeting of civilians by Palestinian armed groups constituted a crime against humanity.

The situation in Iraq is still unstable. The Iraqi government and its agencies have collapsed and no alternative authority has yet been established. Looting and violence are widespread and in some areas people have been forcibly displaced, including those under UN protection.

The only good news in the report was the release of Faraj Ahmad Birgdar, a Syrian poet and journalist, arrested in 1987, held for nearly seven years then sentenced to 15 years for belonging to a banned organization.

Another Syrian writer, Hassib Abdel-Rahman, the lawyer and leading opposition activist Riad al-Turk and the Kurdish activist Hussain Daoud were all released in 2002. “With Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Territories grabbing the news highlights, drawing attention to ‘hidden’ crises is the biggest challenge we face today,” said Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International. “Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is absent from the news despite the imminent threat of genocide,” she added.

According to Khan, people around the world are more insecure today than at any time since the end of the Cold War.
“The war in Iraq dominated the international agenda for the past year, but a myriad of ‘forgotten’ conflicts have taken a heavy toll on lives and human rights,” said Khan at the launch of the annual report in London.

Governments around the world have spent billions in efforts to strengthen national security and fight terror, she added in remarks distributed to reporters in Beirut.

But for millions of people the real sources of insecurity were corrupt and inept systems of policing and justice, brutal repression of political dissent, severe discrimination and social inequity, extreme poverty and the spread of preventable diseases, she said.

Beirut 02-06-2003
Ara Alain Arzoumanian
The Daily Star

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