Statement of Wadad Halawani on Handover of Dossier on Fate of Disappeared

2014-10-03    |   

Statement of Wadad Halawani on Handover of Dossier on Fate of Disappeared

Editor’s Note: The following is an edited translation of the statement read by Wadad Halawani, head of the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon, at a press conference held on September 25, 2014 in the wake of the Lebanese government’s handover of the dossier investigating the fate of the disappeared during Lebanon’s civil war.


On Saturday, September 20, 2014, at 10:30 am, in his capacity as legal counsel for the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon (CFKD) and Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE), Attorney Nizar Saghieh received from the Office of the Prime Minister a copy of the dossier of investigations conducted by the Official Commission of Inquiry in 2000 to uncover the fate of our loved ones.


The media broadcasted the news shortly afterwards, and my phone has not stopped ringing since. Each caller asked about their own disappeared person, and wanted to make sure their name was mentioned in the dossier. What did they find out about them? Where are they? What happened to them? “Please, put our minds at ease”, they would tell me. I even heard from some of the families who had left. I could barely distinguish Odette Salem’s voice from that of Ghazaleh Omeirat, Nayfeh Najjar or Moussa Jadaa. So many of them! Repeated incessantly, the phrase “put our minds at ease” filled my ears. It still is, and when it is not, I hear its echo. How can I put your minds at ease? I only wish I could…


I stand before you today as if I have gone back in time to 14 years ago. I am expected to voice an opinion about an issue that goes well beyond me – an issue that concerns thousands of citizens and residents of Lebanon, surrounded and supported by tens of thousands of their families and relatives.


I bore a similar responsibility 14 years ago, when I had to voice an opinion about the conclusion announced by that same government’s Commission of Inquiry. It had recommended that our cases be referred to a competent court to declare our loved ones legally dead. The hammer came down hard on the families [of the disappeared] that day. However, we endured the pain, supported one another, and thanked the then-Prime Minister Salim El-Hoss for forming the first government commission to inquire into the fate of our loved ones. I should inform you that before the start of our rally last Thursday, my conscience led me to visit him at his home and away from the media.


At the time, as a committee representing the families [of the disappeared], we rejected the conclusion that was announced. We rejected it not because we were certain that all of our loved ones were still alive, but because the recommendation to declare them legally dead “in bulk” only increased our doubts, and raised even more questions. We wondered: Did the Commission investigate the matter seriously? Who were the groups or the individuals investigated? Was a field survey conducted? Based on what evidence did [the Commission] reach the conclusion announced? Was its final recommendation the result of a meticulous scientific process, or was it political in nature? How can it be described as “scientific”, when not even a single disappeared person, alive or dead, nor any of their remains, were ever found? [the Commission] never even collected our genetic imprints – not even to this day!


It has been 14 years since the [first] government commission of inquiry was formed, and even longer since our struggle began in 1982. Our right to the truth has finally been consecrated in the historical ruling issued by the State Council on March 4, 2014, and confirmed again in June after the government tried to evade it and requested a stay of execution.


Today, this right has been enshrined and become firmly rooted. We have forced the government to implement the ruling and provide us with a copy of the complete investigations dossier, “without omissions, restrictions or exceptions”, as ordered by the State Council and as per its own pledge.


I know you are all waiting for what we found in this box about the investigations into the fate of our loved ones that was kept sealed for 14 years. I will not delve into its “depth” (assuming such depth existed), but will leave this discussion to the legal experts – to the attorney who always stood by our side: Nizar Saghieh.


I simply and briefly wish to say that I did not find a single report of an investigation conducted with a single person from the list of those who held positions of responsibility during the [civil] war, the de facto ruling powers at the time, or those who represent them. It is as if the government’s Commission only conducted investigations with the rightful parties -the families [of the disappeared]- while sparing the perpetrators from being asked even a single question.


In this box, I found no investigation revealing the fate of a single person among the disappeared. I found lists of their names, abduction dates, and suspected abductors. I found administrative correspondence. Do these documents represent evidence of the state’s concern, and of its fulfilling its responsibilities towards its citizens? If so, then where is the evidence that made the state hijack this dossier and keep it from us for 14 years, under the pretext that examining it by the families [of the disappeared] would endanger civil peace?!!


We are now well aware of what was behind the two documents we were given 14 years ago. What was once mere suspicion has become certainty. No, investigations were not conducted – but out of good will, I will say that they were not conducted as they should have been. The so-called “reports” were whimsically drawn up at police stations and by security officials, and their conclusions were a pure product of politics.


In short, the investigations dossier which the Office of the Prime Minister assures us is complete, bears two features:


The first is a contemptible and frightening one. It reflects the little consideration shown by the state towards its own citizens for nearly the past 40 years (I am not referring to Prime Minister Salam in this instance). [In our case], the victims were a segment of society whose only sin was that they had no frame of reference or alternative other than the state. We do not and will not accept this any longer. Our struggle will continue until the state recognizes us as its legitimate children.


The second feature holds a glimpse of hope, even if we still have a long journey ahead of us. Our act of forcing the state to implement the State Council ruling represents a step forward in the right direction. Yes, this ruling represents a beacon of light in darkness – the light of recognition for our loved ones, ourselves, and our cause. It represents the consecration of our right to the truth. The fact that the state has submitted to it, even if belatedly, represents the recognition of this right.


To all those who question the usefulness of being handed such a dossier, I say: yes, it has been useful. It was necessary for us to obtain this dossier, despite our doubts, which have unfortunately been confirmed. It was necessary in order to consecrate the right to the truth and have it take root, and in order to emerge with conclusions about what not to do, and therefore about what should be done. We will not let this achievement of ours go to waste. It represents the key to the truth.


I do not wish to reiterate the methods employed by the state to deal with us, our loved ones, and our cause for the past 40 years or so. However, gravest of all today is the fact that this box is tantamount to tangible evidence of the state’s practice of openly and fragrantly lying for 14 years. It bears witness to the crime of lying and documents it. We will appeal to the courts again to prosecute the state at a suitable time, even if that were a 100 years after the crime took place.


Nevertheless, today, I find it is my duty to thank Prime Minister Tammam Salam, who handed this dossier over to us. From this garden near his office in the Grand Serail, in my name and in the name of my dear friend Ghazi [of SOLIDE], and as the representative of the families of the kidnapped and disappeared, I would also like to officially ask [Salam] to give us the opportunity to thank him in person. Such an opportunity would allow us to discuss what the Lebanese state could do to translate its recognition of our right to the truth in tangible terms. We could also discuss how the fate of our loved ones might be determined, in a fair and scientific way, and through state institutions – especially since we now have a scientific roadmap to achieving this.


I would like to point out that we made sure to follow a certain methodology when drafting this roadmap, all the while thinking: How would the state have acted if those who were missing or kidnapped were children of its own statesmen or officials? When bones were found at some construction site, how much would the state have insisted on conducting scientific tests to ascertain whether they were mere bones or human remains?


Yes, this is how we want the state to treat us. We do not want consolation, emotions, or pity. We only want the state to recognize us, and recognize our right – no more, but no less.


Before I conclude, I would like to thank all those that I should thank. I admit I was going to start with the State Council, but my friend Nizar taught me that one should never thank a court of law for meting out justice, as its main function is to achieve justice. Of course, this will not prevent me from saying that this State Council ruling represents the first Lebanese building block in the edifice of international legislation on human rights. The latter has evolved and  has been renewed over the past three decades, especially with regard to the issue of missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance. Nizar, correct me if I am wrong.


I cannot but thank all those who took part in this campaign with us – in legal matters, on the field, in the media, or in the arts – and all those who devoted their time and effort. I do not want to name them one by one to earn their sympathy and support – I am not running for office or any other post. I will not name them because they do not care if I do. They too are truth-seekers. They stand with the truth and they will carry on the journey with us until the end.


In the old days, before all the wars, it was said that the word of an honorable man need not be put on paper. Now that the investigations dossier has been handed over to us, in my name and in Ghazi’s, and in the name of the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon, SOLIDE and the Right to Know campaign, I would like to announce the indefinite suspension of the weekly rally in support of the families of the disappeared. I invite you all to stay with us until the rally’s scheduled end-time at 3pm, in this little garden facing us. Since last Thursday, we have grown fond of this garden, and it has grown fond of us – so much so that we have dubbed it, with its consent, “the garden of the families of the disappeared”.

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