In the early 90’s, when the Lebanese civil war, seen by some as the war of others, was “officially” over, its clan chiefs and warlords were crowned as our care takers, becoming, by God’s will, the guardians of peace. During that period, conciliation from above was made. “What is past is past,” they said. The conciliation translated into impunity for those responsible for the war’s crimes and atrocities. The result: 17 thousand kidnapped –their fate still unknown, 300 thousand wounded and handicapped and a million displaced without proper compensation.
This is then how the war started and ended like nothing has ever happened. An amnesty law was issued on the 26th of August 1991. Those who had committed crimes during the civil war up until the 28th of March 1991were granted amnesty. Some were even granted the highest-ranking government positions in the “new” republic.
The General amnesty and evading accountability
The 15 year war was characterized by a rare level of brutality and genocidal massacres and other criminal activities. Lawyer Kamal Dagher says that the amnesty law was issued not only to erase all that but to resurrect its symbols. it also “permitted moving war leaders from barricades and check points to the highest places of the present state, something that was done over hundreds of mass graves and the bodies of more than 150 thousand killed and hundreds of thousand wounded and handicapped, not to mention big scandals including the disposal of hundreds of tons of poisonous wastes all over the Lebanese land, from sea to high mountains. The country witnessed as well the abuse of public money and vandalizing of property and the spread of a corrupt authority rarely seen elsewhere”.
It should be noted that 17 years after the end of that war, thousands of families are still asking about their sons, brothers, mothers and fathers who have disappeared. They know nothing about their fate: if they died, they don’t know who is responsible and where they are buried, or under what conditions.
Dagher wonders: “if the general amnesty means oblivion and forgiveness, then who could forget, and who has the right to forgive? And which civil peace can be built on oblivion and forgiveness that ignores the need to confront the truth, even a small part of it, and guarantee a minimum level of justice?”
In this regard, Amnesty International affirms that on one side, the amnesty law “guarantees to the human rights violators the evasion from punishment and on the other side prevents the exposure of the truth.” The organization adds: “Lebanon won’t know real and sustainable peace, and Human Rights won’t be protected unless the country faces his past through procedures allowing the investigation in the war period and showing the truth regarding Human Rights’ abuses that were committed in the context of the conflict the country witnessed”.
Thus, a general amnesty that isn’t accompanied by accountability and recognition of past mistakes, represents a law which preserves the ugly image of the war, thereby increasing the chance of its renewal, as long as the country and state are rebuilt, once again, by the same old leadership entrenched by the Taef agreement. These leaders are ready and set, at any time, to play the same blood shedding role that they once played. And today they continue to mobilize people on the basis of sects and confessions, accompanied by the rearming of some of them. And that is how, says Kamil Dagher, “we find ourselves in a vicious circle: the sectarian structure of the country and the absence of accountability produce civil wars, in which war crimes are committed, as well as Human rights abuses. Afterwards, pause periods occur through general amnesty laws, thus accountability is absent and collective evasion from punishment will occur. This is a reality that keeps the fire under the ashes, hence storms will eventually clear out the ash and the fire will be ignited once again.”
Bassem Chit, one of the activists in the “People’s Court” a campaign that was launched in
April 14, 2007 and called for the abrogation of the amnesty law, says: “we cannot go forth unless accountability for the mistakes and crimes of the past is conducted. He who killed his people in wartime cannot be entrusted to build peace. He who kidnapped and tortured on the basis of sectarian and racist divisions cannot and should not be entrusted to build civil peace.”
In the 19th anniversary of the cease fire, the war hasn’t ended yet. The war is still ongoing in various forms and all of us have a role to end it. Young men and women with no horizon for better future, students and workers along the production lines, we all have to move our country from the present situation towards fully transcending the sectarian structure. Then, another society can be built, a transparent one, based on continuous accountability, where no one can escape from retribution or reconciliation. Together, we should stand against this political class that decided to step over every essential notion in the experience we lived in war and peace and gave us a pseudo country, a pseudo dream, a suspicious present, a suspect future, all wrapped with an amnesiac memory and at the bottom a gapped memory! Only then…we can safely and confidently say “Never Again”!