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Lebanon: A Year Later, No Accountability for Killings

Justice for May 2008 Victims of Internal Fighting Key for Building Confidence in State Institutions


One year after the outbreak of fighting between opposition and
pro-government groups that left at least 110 people dead, Lebanese
authorities have yet to make public the results of their investigations
into the killings of civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. So far,
the judiciary has issued only one indictment against an individual who
shot at civilians, while other investigations have stalled, with no
prosecutions to date.

The fighting began in Beirut on May 7, 2008, killing at least 71
people in the first two weeks, including at least 14 civilians.
Fighters on both sides attacked civilians and civilian property. While
the groups signed a political settlement in Doha on May 21, they failed
to address abuses committed during the fighting. Sporadic clashes
continued for another three months in the Beka` and the north, killing
another 40 people, including civilians.

"Lebanon's past conflicts make it clear that agreements to stop
fighting will not last if they sweep punishment for attacks on
civilians under the rug," said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human
Rights Watch. "The only way to break this cycle is for the Lebanese
people to hold those responsible accountable."

During the fighting, Human Rights Watch visited areas where
civilians were killed and often saw Lebanese police and military
conducting their own investigations. However, in almost all cases, the
investigations have stalled, and the judiciary has taken no further
steps. The lawyer for the family of one of the victims killed in Beirut
told Human Rights Watch: "The investigation disappeared. Every time we
asked where the investigation stood, they say they did not know where
the file was. The truth is that they don't want to find out."

Another lawyer, Elie Ghassan, who represents the Syrian Socialist
Nationalist Party, members of which died in the northern town of Halba
after being beaten and ill-treated by gunmen, expressed similar
frustration. He told Human Rights Watch: "We gave the prosecutor
videotapes showing those who killed our members. We even gave them the
names of those who appear in the film. Yet, nothing has happened. The
file is frozen."

"With the evidence that serious crimes took place last year, it is
difficult to understand why the investigations are not leading to
anything," Houry said. "The Lebanese authorities should come clean and
explain where the investigations stand."

Human Rights Watch has been able to find evidence of only one
indictment so far in connection with the violence in May 2008. In
September, the First Investigative Judge in Beirut, Abdel Rahim Hammud,
issued an indictment against an individual accused of killing two
civilians and wounding six others after an altercation broke out during
a funeral procession in Tarik al-Jdideh, Beirut on May 10. In other
incidents, the police and army detained other individuals on suspicion
of possessing weapons and explosives, but released many of them shortly

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.