Lebanon’s crippling, fifteen-year civil war and corrupt political system have created pitiable law enforcement practices and inadequate legislation that do not protect the rights and freedoms of the suspect, accused or convicted. Today, research has revealed that there is rampant arbitrary detention in Lebanon. Suspects are routinely held in police stations or courthouse holding cells in excess of the legal time limit of 96 hours prior to appearing before a judge. Pre-trial detainees drift along an undetermined status, where they are perceived as the perpetrator, but have not been found guilty by a court of law. Moreover, detainees live in overcrowded correctional institutions where only the fittest are able to survive.
Arbitrary detention not only shatters public confidence in the state, but also symbolizes a weak rule of law, crushing any hope for individuals seeking justice. The first cause of arbitrary detention is Lebanon’s ruined legal culture. Gaps in legal texts, and practices by law enforcement bodies reveal that the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty does not exist. There is also a perverse understanding that the purpose of detention is to punish rather than to rehabilitate the perpetrator, causing the indiscriminate use of deprivation of suspects’ liberties. The second cause of arbitrary detention has been identified by ALEF as corruption in the criminal justice system, leading to the interference of political actors in the criminal justice process on different levels. The lackadaisical judicial system is abused and corrupted for the purposes of accelerating or decelerating the court process. On a statutory level, laws are not calculable and there are articles in the Code of Criminal Procedure that legalize arbitrary detention and violate various rights of detainees, such as the right to a fair trial. On a procedural level, some arbitrary detentions occur out of a blatant disrespect and ignorance of the law.
Since the Taif Agreement, the government has failed to fix the judicial system and conduct the necessary reforms. Crumbling infrastructure and crippling institutions are primarily to blame for this, in addition to the lack of political will and awareness about the importance of having a fair trial process. In order for the judiciary to be independent, functional and transparent, reforms are needed for the following issues: legal aid, lack of oversight mechanisms, lack of resources and a lack of training and continuing education for law enforcement officials.
National protection mechanisms, reforms and rehabilitative efforts are required, not only to remedy procedural abuses, but to uphold the dignity of marginalized individuals, including those suspected or accused of engaging in criminal behaviour. In this regard, Lebanon’s ultimate challenge is to constantly measure the effectiveness of its laws on the ground and amongst the people it seeks to protect and discipline.
By referring to Lebanon’s historical and political past in regards to its current legal framework this comprehensive report by ALEF-Act for Human Rights analyzes and identifies the problems and gaps in the rule of law and the justice system in Lebanon. The inclusion of statements from victims themselves helps this report to reflect on the implications of inadequate protection and its effect on the lives of those living in Lebanon.