2011-10-08 A campaign to bring Lebanese war criminals to justice

Lebanon's civil war ended in 1989 with a collective agreement between the different fighting factions, aided by an international patronage from Saudi Arabia, United States and Syria. The agreement, which was annexed to the country's constitution, was called the Taef Accord, referring to the area where the meeting was held in Saudi Arabia. Syria kept a strong influence afterwards until 2005, when its army withdrew from Lebanon.

At the time, the fighting factions compromised, accepted removing military presence and dismantling their militias structures, but they did that on one condition in return: sharing power. It was the easiest method (in theory) to stop the war, to hand power to the warlords. The civil war was actually a mini-global war fought by local pawns. It was fueled by the Lebanese internal divisions, but the United States, Soviet Union, Israel, Palestinians, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya had direct interests (or presence) in Lebanon's war.

In 1991, the Lebanese government and parliament drafted and approved an Amnesty Law against all crimes committed during the war. Again, it was an easy fix of brushing all the problems under the carpet, forgetting all suffering and destruction cause by the war. The law was marketed at the time as a way of 'reconciliation', to be expected from a system run by the warlords themselves, the same people who ran the war. From 1990 onwards, they filled all cabinet and parliament posts, and they kept a strong grip on power until this moment of time. Many of them are preparing their sons to take over too.

Many Lebanese people attribute the corruption that pervades the system to the warlords who contribute to or offer a patronage to the system. After the war ended, these lords kept 'fighting peacefully' using the militias mentality in running the state's establishments.

Now, It seems a group of Lebanese activists want to change this defacto, so they have organized and are planning to launch a campaign tomorrow on Sunday 9th October 2001 with a sit-in in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut. They aim to bring the warlords, who committed crimes against humanity, to justice.

Their campaign calls for :

1. Abolition of the 1991 Amnesty Law which they say contradict the international law
2. Establishment of special court to prosecute war criminals
3. Freezing of the assets of war criminals
4. Compensation for the families of victims and missing people.

The campaigners prefer to stay anonymous until the campaign gains momentum, as apparently they received threats through their Facebook page. They do realize that their goals seem very ambitious, but they aim to raise awareness and open the debate again in a country where violence doesn't seem to be a big deal, and is taken for granted.

Just in 2008, Hezbollah temporarily occupied some parts of the capital Beirut, and clashed with the other less organized and armed Future Militia groups. Eleven people were killed, and no one was prosecuted. In 2010, a personal dispute between two individuals turned into local military clashes between their supporters in the Beirut neighbourhood of Burj Abi Haidar. It lasted for hours, two people died and no one was prosecuted. The Lebanese Army intervened, stopped the fighting and ensured everyone went home safely.

Sending these officials to jail is nearly an impossible likelihood in Lebanon, but the hope is that in the long run the high public awareness will push them to disappear from public life. The influence the warlords have in the Lebanese state guarantees an impunity for their followers which can be used at any time to breach the law and commit crimes. Basically, it's fine as long as 'it serves the cause'.

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