Closing A Bloody Chapter: Lebanon Passes Law To Investigate Civil War Past
Legislation calls for an official commission of inquiry tasked with uncovering the fate of over 17,000 Lebanese who disappeared during the conflict
The Lebanese parliament has approved a law that sets up an official commission of inquiry tasked with discovering the fate of many Lebanese who went missing during the country’s bloody civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990.
Lebanese police estimate that the number of those who have disappeared without a trace during the conflict could be as high as 17,000. The new law could bring closure to many who lost relatives in the war and have not recovered their remains.
“The new law is considered an achievement in terms of Lebanese legislation,” Nada Naseef, a Lebanese activist, told The Media Line. “Families deserve to know what happened to their loved ones so they can close the chapter and move on.”
Families and human rights activists have been protesting and demanding such an initiative for years, she added. “This [new law] came as the culmination of their efforts.”
Considered one of the most devastating conflicts of the late 20th century, the Lebanese Civil War was both an internal affair and a regional conflict involving a host of actors. It revolved around some of the issues that have dominated Middle Eastern politics: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Cold War competition, Arab nationalism and political Islam.
Disagreements over these issues intersected and coalesced, roiling Lebanon’s political elite as well as the general population, sparking tensions over the sectarian division of power, national identity, and the country’s strategic alliances.
In addition to the large number of dead and those who went missing during the war, much of Lebanon’s infrastructure was destroyed, as well as the country’s reputation as an example of intra-sectarian coexistence in the Arab Middle East.
To come to terms with the bloody conflict, the new law calls for the establishment of a “national body for the missing and forcibly disappeared Lebanese,” which would allow for the “excavation of burial sites and exhumation of remains.”
“Lebanon’s infrastructure in general is almost destroyed. To that end, how is the government going to look for bodies?” Rabee Damaj, a Lebanese writer and analyst, told The Media Line. “Not to mention that the majority of those missing persons were trapped in Syria, so is the government planning to question Syria and hold it accountable?
“After 25 years, it’s almost impossible to know what happened to the missing Lebanese during the civil war. The government is late on this issue and I don’t think there are budgets to support such a law,” he added.
He explained that the government passed the law to distract the Lebanese street from major issues facing the country. “Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his ruling-system are being heavily criticized lately for the high cost of living, high unemployment, as well as other blemishes in the system.”
Promises to come to terms with the country’s past, he warned, could give families a false sense of hope.
Gibran Bassil, the Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister as well as Aoun’s son-in-law, supported the legislation. Following its passage into law, he tweeted: “By adopting the law, Lebanon enters for the first time after the civil war the stage of genuine reconciliation by healing and giving the people their right to know.”
In 2011, the Mass Violence and Resistance Research Network stated in a publication that during the 15 years of fighting, around 90,000 people lost their lives in the conflict. Moreover, nearly 100,000 were badly injured, and close to a million people, or two-thirds of the country’s population, were displaced.
The new law also stipulates that whoever acted as an instigator, actor, and accessory to crimes committed during the civil war “shall be punished by hard labor from five to fifteen years, in addition to a fine of 15-20 million Lebanese pounds [about $13,000].”
Human rights organizations welcomed the adoption of the law, while International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Rona Halabi said it was “a first step towards giving the families of the missing their right to know the fate of loved ones.”