From a study trip the 14 – 21 of May 2004 to
Nils Oskar Nilsson
Member of the Swedish Parliament (m)
The previously free and independent Lebanon is in reality a Syrian satellite. The Syrian military presence since 1976 is a de facto occupation that makes Lebanon's sovereignty and democratic development impossible.
In 1920 Lebanon was declared a sovereign state after the peace negotiations of the First World War. Lebanon is the first democracy of the Middle East with a constitution from 1926, which guaranteed a power distribution between the major religious groups of the country – Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims, which makes Lebanon the only nation in the region where state power is shared between Christians and Muslims. However, since the Syrian occupation the power is no longer in the hands of the people but as well the president, the government and the parliament as the army is controlled from Damascus. Parallels can be made with the Vichy puppet government in France during the German occupation and with the situation in the Baltic States during the Soviet era. The current president, Emile Lahoud, was appointed 1998 by the parliament on Syria's suggestion. Corruption and nepotism are wide spread among the representatives of power.
The current minister of internal affairs, Elias Al-Murr, is married to the daughter of the president Emile Lahoud and he is the son of the previous minister of internal affairs Michel Al-Murr. The sister of the minister, Mirna El-Murr, heads the authority that issues all building permits.
I have during this week in Lebanon met and spoken to a large number of representatives for Human Rights Organizations (HRO), student organizations, parties, liberation movements and also to individuals such as lawyers, journalists, university teachers, previous prisoners in Syrian jails, mothers and relatives of lost Lebanese and others. In case these have appeared publicly in the media with their names, they are quoted in the report. Still, many have asked for anonymity out of safety reasons. Most conversations and meetings have been recorded. Interpretor and guide was Miled Amine from Botkyrka, chairman of the Free Patriotic Movement, Sweden.
My impression of Lebanon is a beautiful, proud and freedom hungry country and people, who during decades have been raped physically, financially and politically by perpetrators inside and outside the borders of the country.
On the surface Lebanon seems – compared to the surroundings – relatively calm, normal and prosperous for the temporary visitor but under the surface there is – after a long oppression caused by fear of violence and persecution – silence and self censorship. The consequence of military oppression, arrests and jailings without trial against lawyers, journalists and individuals has been described as a “Stockholm Syndrome”. The totally subjugated Lebanese have become silent and have adjusted.
The peaceful picture is also disturbed by the numerous military roadblocks on streets and roads, where citizens are checked without reason.
The light in the darkness comes from conviction and work by the youth and enthusiasts for a free, sovereign and democratic Lebanon – free from the Syrian oppression.
Currently municipal elections are taking place in Lebanon's regions and districts. Parliament elections where scheduled for the summer of 2004 but has been postponed eight months to the spring of 2005. The President is elected by the parliament in the fall of 2004. The reason for moving the parliament elections is to make sure that the old parliament chooses the “correct” president in accordance with the wishes of Syria. The constitution is hereby put out of action by the Syrian controlled parliament which also manipulates election results with special election laws (1992, 1996, 2000) and by changing the prerequisites as described below. So far it is not known if and how the election laws will be changed for the 2005 parliament elections.
Lebanon's parliament has 128 members, 50% Christians and 50% Muslims. At least 100 members are according to information controlled by Syria through fear or corruption. Syria accepts about 10 “oppositional” members to give an impression of a free and democratic process. The President should be Christian (Maronite), the Speaker should be Shia Muslim and the Prime Minister should be Sunni Muslim.
A large number of Syrians have been given Lebanese citizenship, which affects the relation between Christians and Muslims. Identity/voting cards are required in order to vote and have to be applied for. The authorities can hereby control who are given voting cards in order to block certain, and support other candidates. Hundreds of “faithful” voters are also supplied with a number of identity cards and are bussed around to different voting places. Druze are counted as Muslims in the elections.
South Lebanon was isolated during the war when the South Lebanese Army (SLA) received support from Israel in the war against Syria and Hizbullah. Israel left South Lebanon in 2000 and Syria withdrew 2001 but left behind the fully armed Hizbullah. During the years 2000-2001 former SLA-members were prosecuted at summary “60-second trials”, in spite of promised amnesty, accused of collaboration with Israel. Also relatives of SLA members are stigmatized and are shut out from the work market. Anyone who had a relation to the SLA is accused of collaboration with Israel and is exposed to different levels of persecution and discrimination.
Lebanon's financial situation is very serious both nationally and for individuals. The costs of living are very high and the incomes are low. Many Lebanese in exile support their families financially. The salaries for large groups of the work force are systematically dumped through Syrian guest workers and at the same time Lebanese unemployment is high.
Since the beginning of the '90s the state has accumulated large debts, currently 43 billion US dollars. The country has received substantial amounts in contributions and loans but most of it has “disappeared”, according to information to Syria and to corrupt politicians. Lebanon is now in a state of financial depletion.
Lunch meeting with representatives for the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), among others the lawyer George Haddad, who at a number of occasions has been arrested and questioned in connection with him defending students and others.
In the evening taking part in an electoral campaign meeting in connection with the ongoing local elections in the city Batroun in North Lebanon. Around 400-500 participants, men and women of all ages, remarkably many young 16-20 years old. Very successful speeches by representatives and candidates for the FPM. Speech by phone and loudspeakers by general Michel Aoun, formerly Prime Minister, now in exile in Paris. The theme for the speeches was a free, independent and democratic Lebanon for the Lebanese people without military presence or interference “from others”. Much Lebanese military presence, armed but passive. Syrian military and security forces posted a little further away from the meeting place.
Meeting in Safra Marina with representatives for the Human Rights organization SOLIDE – the chairman Ghazy Aad, member of the board Claude Hajjar (also member of the Guardians of the Cedars) and two students.
The representatives regretted that Sweden no longer has an open embassy in Beirut. This could be interpreted as that Sweden no longer sees Lebanon as a sovereign state but has accepted that Lebanon is ruled from Damascus as a part of a “Great-Syria”.
Around 17,000 Lebanese have disappeared. Many are probably in Syrian jails. The Lebanese government constantly denies Syrian abuse against Lebanese and maintains that all who has been missing for more than four years should be declared dead. This is not accepted by SOLIDE.
The representatives told me that Syria has tried to sow dissension between Christians and Muslims in North Lebanon by vandalizing churches, mosques and graves in order to create an image of antagonism and violence between groups from the different religions in Lebanon. In this they have failed.
Fear of arrests, violence and jail has led to widespread self-censorship all over the Lebanese society – media, journalists, parliamentarians and individuals have adapted and gone silent. The very careful critique that is expressed is always preceded by praise of Syria.
As well Ghazy Aad, paralyzed and tied to a wheel chair, as Claude Hajjar have been arrested, threatened and subjected to violence. Aad was beaten up and got his wheel chair destroyed at a peaceful demonstration recently near the UN office in Beirut.
Meeting in Beirut with Fatmi Abdallah, Shia Muslim and representative for International Federation of Human Rights. Fatmi spoke to the European Parliament in Brussels April 27th, 2001 and has also visited the Vatican, France and Switzerland. She can see no antagonisms between Muslims and Christians. What unite are the patriotism and the struggle for a free Lebanon. The response from the EU and from other visits has been positive but has not led to any actions to get Syria to leave Lebanon.
Fatmi's brother, Ali Mousa Abdallah, born 1959, was kidnapped 1981 in Lebanon by the Syrian security service and is since then missing. Fatmi has searched for her brother in Syria, who denies all knowledge of him. There is nevertheless testimonies from 1983, 1994 and 2000 by freed prisoners which say that the brother was in jail and alive. The International Red Cross is not allowed to visit Syrian jails.
Meeting in Beirut with Sonia Eid, Christian and chairman of the Association of Parents of Jailed Children, since its founding in 1996. The association worked secretly in the beginning but is now working openly and currently 176 families have joined. More and more are joining – Christian, Muslim and Druze.
The son of the Eid couple, Jihad George, born 1970, was jailed 1990 by Syrian military together with 17 other young men and was taken to Syria. One of them was released after severe torture and could testify that the son was alive in prison. In 1992 the parents received information about the location of their son but was not permitted to visit him. In November 1998 Sonia Eid obtained an audience with the newly appointed Syrian president Assad, who questioned the presence of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails.
As well the Lebanese as the Syrian governments consistently denies that there are Lebanese in Syrian jails. In spite of this, occasional prisoners are released and at one time, about a hundred prisoners that supposedly didn't exist were released. Non-existing prisoners who die in Syrian jails are delivered to their parents in closed caskets, which they are forbidden to open before the burial.
Recently three dead have been delivered.
Visit to Tabriyé, where 600 cedar trees have been planted since 25 years as a memorial of those who died in war or by terror – the Forrest of the Martyrs.
Meeting with Alain Aoun, Tony Danielle, George Haddad and Hekmet Dib, all from the Free Patriotic Movement.
Hekmet Dib was a candidate in a by-election in his district in 2003, which was the first time since 1991 that a candidate from the FPM took part in an election. The campaign was carried out with very limited resources. Through manipulation of the district divisions and ballot rigging the seat went to the government friendly son of the deceased member.
According to the FPM representatives, there is no less than 20,000 Syrian militaries – probably many more – plus an unknown number of thousands of Syrian security service in Lebanon. The armed militia of Hizbullah numbers 10,000 – 15,000 and can quickly be mobilized to 100,000. The 300,000 – 350,000 Palestinians in the camps include Hamas and al-Qaida and are also armed. These are not under Lebanese jurisdiction or military control.
The problem is not only the Syrian military and security service presence but also the strong Syrian influence on constitution, elections, authorities and political decisions.
The FPM-representatives showed a concrete and constructive solution to Lebanon's situation:
The Lebanese constitution makes it possible to appoint an interim prime minister and government when the term of the current president, Lahoud, expires. This would be the president’s last official action, and the only task for the prime minister and the government would be to prepare a free and public election for the spring of 2005. Thereafter the newly elected parliament will elect/appoint a new president. The interim prime minister gets president's position and authority as a head of state and the interim government shall represent all Lebanon's political and religious groups – a form of coalition government with popular support.
This model was applied 1958 and 1988.
The prerequisites for this peaceful and constitutional solution is that Syria
– accepts a time plan for withdrawing all military and security service in accordance with the UN SC resolution 520/1982
– accepts a national Lebanese coalition government wit the task to prepare and carry out free and public elections in 2005 for a new parliament
– recognizes Lebanon as a free and sovereign state.
The Barcelona process and the Mediterranean partnership gives EU means to bring primarily Syria but also the Lebanese president, government and parliament to accept the proposed democratic development in Lebanon.
Evening meeting with two men, former prisoners in Syria, for safety reasons called X and Y.
Y was arrested by Syrians in 1985, when he was 19 years old. There was fighting in the area and Y was accused of spying on the Syrians on behalf of the Christians. He was brought to jail in Syria and was tortured until he confessed to the alleged crime, to which he was not guilty. Y was held in Syrian prison for seven years without trial.
X was 16 years old when he was arrested in 1986. He was delivered by Lebanese collaborators to the Syrians and was accused of belonging to a Christian party, nothing else.
He was kept in an underground cell, 2 x 1 m and 1 m high and was subjected to torture until he “confessed”. Both X and Y has thoroughly described the systematic torture that both they and other prisoners were exposed to during questionings and imprisonment. Several fellow prisoners died.
The methods are so horrible that I choose not to describe them in this report.
Lunch meeting with May Murr and her husband Alfred Murr. They are both in their seventies. May Murr is the sister of the previous minister of internal affairs and the aunt of the current. She is a very well known author, poet and historian with a large production and has been professor in university and military academy.
May Murr has broken off with her brother and his family and is actively participating in the struggle for a free and independent Lebanon. She is a respected and important symbol for this struggle.
Evening meeting with university students and representatives for student organizations from a number of universities and colleges in Beirut. At the start of the meeting there was around 40 participants and at the following discussion there was about 20. A proclamation was signed and delivered. The participants were between 19 and 27 years old, some of them graduates from universities in Lebanon and other parts of the world. Around 50% had at one or several occasions been arrested and questioned during 3 – 4 days. The spirit of freedom and sacrifice was notably strong “we are young and do not have so much to loose yet, more than our freedom and our lives”.
The ambitious and well-educated youths have set their sites on the future. A free and independent Lebanon is the target and young lawyers and social scientists have already started the preparation work on a new and democratic constitution. They are not looking to religious or other affiliations but want a constitution for all Lebanese. The students are hoping for international attention and expect support from USA, UN and the European Union. They look upon Sweden as a respected democracy and are seeking Sweden's support.
The young, well-educated Lebanese want to build their future in their own country. If there is not soon a democratic development in Lebanon without Syrian occupation, there is an evident risk that they permanently look abroad for their future. Already about 80% of the young people leave Lebanon in different ways.
Meeting with the university teacher Z, who wishes to remain anonymous for safety reasons for his family and support. Z was previously not politically engaged but know feels, as a teacher but mostly as a parent, that it is important for the young to understand how it can be to be “Lebanese in a free, multi-religious and multi-cultural Lebanon”.
Z now sees it as a duty to testify about and support a free Lebanon. There is “limbo” - silence in Lebanon. Z experiences a self-censorship because he and others know that they are watched and monitored. Those who have work and career adjust and are pacified. They have too much to loose if they openly show the opposition they feel against Syria and against corrupt politicians. Many, mostly young emigrate because they feel hopelessness and because it is easier for intelligent and well-educated people to have a career abroad. There is a great risk for a devastating brain drain.
Z describes the war that started in 1975 partly as a civil war because Lebanon was not a completely united society but most of all it was a war on Lebanese land between the neighbors Syria, Israel and Palestine. Hizbullah, who originally was organized by Syria and Iran, is now also seen as a political problem because it has become a Shia Muslim party with some popular support.
Z believes that a new constitution for a free and sovereign Lebanon must be founded in full democratic freedom and in agreement with the different groups of the society. This requires protection by the UN, European Union and others of the international community. A UN report that paid attention to the human rights situation in the Arab countries is now a subject of discussion between Lebanese. UNESCO and other international organizations should actively participate more in the human rights education.
When asking about certain Christian minorities position in Lebanon, Z tells me that there are Syriac and Assyrian groups who live as refugees in Lebanon since WWI as they saw Lebanon as a Christian and safe country. Some received citizenship but most did not. There are still Syriac/Assyrian refugees arriving from Iraq. Syriac/Assyrian refugees cannot purchase or own property and children do not get grades in school.
Meeting at the Foundation for Human & Humanitarian Rights, Beirut, a human rights organization founded 1989. FHHR now have 30 – 40 active members, among them four higher judges, two lawyers and several academics, which come from different religious, ethnic and social groups.
Present at the meeting was the chairman Wa'il Kheir, economist Raffi Donoyan, lawyer George Haddad and also a number of university teachers and others.
FHHR is member of several international human rights associations and cooperate with, among others, Lund's University, the Danish government and the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
FHHR is a general human rights organization for all kinds of human rights cases in Lebanon. There is a women’s section and lawyers for the defense of arrested people. An educational section works on spreading knowledge about human rights to the public and the universities through, among others, 76 well trained students who takes part in a lecture tour this semester. In this way they reach audiences and students from all parts of the society. There is a dawning but “silent” interest for human rights, liberalization and globalization. Many university students are active “rebels”, who openly and at demonstrations express opposition towards Syria and the Lebanese power apparatus.
Many older members of FHHR have been arrested and kept for questioning. Wa'il Kheir was arrested at a large raid around Christmas time 1996 but was released a few days later after media attention and diplomatic intervention. He is very well known and the arrest could be seen as a symbolic warning. The authorities nowadays use legislation and the judicial system as a means of oppression and humiliation of Lebanese citizens.
The FHHR regularly publish reports on human rights events in Lebanon, both positive and negative. For security reasons, representatives from the diplomatic corps are always invited as observers at press conferences and similar events.
Meeting with the journalist Habib Younes (mentioned in the Foreign Department's human rights report, Lebanon, 2003).
Younes gave a detailed account on how he in August 2001 was picked up from his home in Byblos by plain-clothes security service personnel for “a short questioning” at the ministry of defense in Baabda, handcuffed and blindfolded. He was accused of being a member of the Guardians of the Cedars, for his political opinions and his critique of Syria. Younes explained that he was not active but that he worked with the colleague Antoine Bassil. Younes was not believed and was questioned for four days by eight different people. No report from the interrogation was written. He was assaulted in different ways and threats were made on his family. The security service also tried to show in the media that Younes' contacts with Antoine Bassil was a preparation of a coup against Lebanon in cooperation with Israel. (Bassil is a well-known TV-correspondent, accused and convicted for the same “crime”.)
Finally, Younes signed a made up confession after which he had to appear in front of a military court. He was convicted to three years in prison and was stripped of all civil rights such as the right to vote, the right to run for office, public employment and was forbidden to teach or to write in any newspaper. Younes appealed to a higher military court and got his sentence reduced to 15 months and his civil rights returned. The court and also the political power was aware that the accusations were false and that's why the punishment was relatively light in spite of the seriousness of the alleged crimes. Younes was imprisoned until November 19th 2002.
Younes is well-known public figure and journalist and the trials were open to the relatives and the media. The authorities wanted to use the verdict against Younes to scare the free media.
Younes has not been persecuted since the release but he is monitored. He cannot return to his old job at the newspaper Al Hayat and the authorities have forbidden the media to hire Younes, who is still unemployed. He has been offered employment abroad but chooses to remain in Lebanon in silent protest.
Meeting with among others a former high-ranking officer, O, in the Lebanese army. For safety reasons these have to remain anonymous. For the same reasons all information cannot be reproduced. O is extremely knowledgeable in history and politics in addition to his military experience and knowledge. O sees a large problem with the Syrian security service in Lebanon, which is numerically much larger than the Syrian army. There is also a big security risk with the armed Hizbullah and the Palestinians in the camps, where groups are tied to bin Laden.
O considers the Lebanese army to be fully capable to be responsible for the security of the people and the country if and when Syria voluntarily withdraws and on condition that armed groups are not mobilized. At an armed conflict, the Lebanese army will be at a disadvantage. Syria has chemical weapons, according to O.
O also believes that there is a sufficient number of Lebanese, who have the needed political and other competence and ability to take an independent leadership role in Lebanon after a Syrian withdrawal and free public elections. A new constitution must consider the many different groups in the country but there are good conditions for a free, sovereign and democratic Lebanon. The development could be very fast but requires international support and monitoring.
Lebanon is seemingly calm and the world's attention has for a long time been focused on war zones and trouble spots such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Palestine. The crises in the Middle East have put Lebanon on the sidelines and the world has forgotten and abandoned the country that was once the pearl of the Middle East.
The coming presidential and parliament elections could be the crossroads. Either the Syrian military and political dominance will continue and Lebanon will more and more be a part of a Great Syria, or the world will take its responsibility for human rights and democracy and persuade Syria to leave Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 520/1982. A twenty-two year old resolution, which Syria so far has not paid any attention to, is probably not sufficient today. If it is to be respected by Syria and the puppet government in Lebanon it is required that UN now puts power and force behind the words. There are occasions and means beyond the sanctions against Syria that USA recently announced. EU now has Lebanon in its immediate surroundings through Cyprus becoming a member. So far the people of Lebanon hold EU and not least Sweden in respect and credibility. The Mediterranean partnership according to the Barcelona process gives EU political and financial means to influence and possibly force Lebanon's and Syria's governments to a Syrian withdrawal and the start of a democratic development towards a free and sovereign Lebanon. Loans, contributions and increased trading should be tied to conditions.
In this report concrete and constructive Lebanese suggestions and how they could be implemented within the framework of the constitution are presented.
But – there is no time to lose!