MS Risk Blog

Rising Social Tensions in Lebanon

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The rising social tensions in Lebanon started on 30 June, after the Lebanese army raid on Arsal, a town near the Syrian border. Looking for terrorists in Syrian refugee camps, soldiers were met by five suicide bombers. The army arrested around 350 people, four of whom died in detention. More recently, the appearance of Hezbollah fighters involved in skirmishes around Arsal against militants from both IS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front), and the introduction of the national army, who have set up defensive positions around Arsal, has led to rising tensions among Lebanese citizens. Allegations of torture and mistreatment have since been made, crystallising tensions in Lebanon, which is struggling to cope with an estimated one million Syrian refugees and the threat of IS incursions across the border.

On 16 July, interior minister Nouhad Machnouk banned all protests. This decision was prompted by calls from the left-wing political group Socialist Forum, alongside other human rights and activist groups, to hold a peaceful protest on 18 July in support of Syrian refugees and detainees they believe are being mistreated by the Lebanese army. In response to the ban, the Socialist Forum issued a statement asking for accountability for the death of the four Syrians.

“We just wanted to highlight abuses and demand an independent investigation,” Farah Kobeissi, a member of the Socialist Forum said. “The violence against Syrian refugees is becoming more frequent and is normalised under the appellation of ‘war against terror.’ But even if the army is responsible, there needs to be accountability.”

An autopsy report of the bodies of the four Syrian detainees requested by military prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr concluded that the deaths resulted from “health complications.” One was said to have died from a sudden heart attack, a second from pneumonia, a third of climate shock and substance abuse, and a fourth of emphysema. The report, however, was not made public. An independent medical analysis ordered by a Zahle judge, Antoine Abi Zeid, almost went through, until the lawyer representing the victim’s families was coerced into handing over forensic samples, intended for the hospital, to military intelligence officers in plain clothes. The same lawyer had previously stated that the detainees were in good health before their bodies were returned with clear signs of torture.

Pictures widely shared on social media and by Human Rights Watch (HRW) show deep gashes around the men’s wrists, as well as burns, bruises, and in one case, congealed blood around the man’s ear. A physician stated to HRW, “it would be reasonable to conclude that the death of these men is the result of in-custody violence.”

Allegations of torture are not new in Lebanon. In 2014, a UN report stated that ‘torture in Lebanon is a pervasive practice that is routinely used by armed forces and law enforcement agencies.’

An increase in discrimination is also causing tension between Lebanese and Syrian refugees. Farah Salkha, the executive director of the Anti-Racism Movement, racism is reaching “peaks of levels of violence and hatred towards refugees.” Salkha said, “Refugees have slowly and gradually turned into the ‘black sheep’ of this place and they are supposed to be silent, invisible, obedient, do as instructed or risk their lives, get killed and be blamed for it.”