Excessive use of force, beatings, rape threats, and arbitrary arrests are only a few of the human rights violations Lebanese revolutionaries have been subject to at the hands of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) over the past 100 days of demonstrations. Amnesty International recently released a report confirming these abuses and calling upon the newly-formed government to take immediate action and put an end to the ongoing violence.
The report came after a weekend of what the human rights watchdog described as "unprecedented" police violence that saw security forces target protesters' upper bodies, including their eyes, with rubber bullets and fired tear gas and water cannon at close range.
"Such alarming levels of violence by security forces, mainly the anti-riot police, must be immediately halted by way of a clear and transparent order, and those responsible for this pattern of violence need to be held accountable without delay and in a manner that guarantees effective redress for the victims," said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Regional Director at Amnesty International.
On Oct. 17, 2019, Lebanese revolutionaries took to the streets to protest against the country's political class and demand concrete change and serious reform, particularly when it comes to basic services such as electricity, medical services, proper infrastructure, and employment opportunities. Demonstrations have been ongoing since then, and they have witnessed a series of violent clashes between revolutionaries and anti-riot police as well as several reports of abuse at police stations.
The weekend of Jan. 18-19, in the lead-up to the announcement of the new cabinet headed by Hassan Diab, marked one of the most violent weekends since the nationwide protests began, according to Amnesty.
Anti-riot police reportedly shot protesters in the face and eyes with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, injuring hundreds and triggering public outrage. At least 409 protesters were injured over the two nights, with at least two losing an eye each after being targeted by rubber bullets.
In response, social media activists launched a campaign condemning police violence and expressing solidarity with revolutionaries whose eyes were damaged by security forces. "Our revolution is your eyes," the trending hashtag read.
In response to the violence exhibited on Jan. 18-19, Amnesty interviewed witnesses, analyzed footage, reviewed official statements, and compiled its findings in a report.
The non-governmental organization described the ISF's firing of rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas at a close range, as well as their baton beatings, as "unlawful" since they do not meet the conditions prescribed in international guidelines.
Citing international standards and guidelines on the use of force, Amnesty noted that rubber bullets may only be used to stop individuals engaged in violence against persons. "In addition, with a view to minimizing injury they may, as a general rule, only be aimed at the lower part of the body and must never be used as a general tool to disperse a crowd," the report stated.
Amnesty also condemned arbitrary arrests and alleged torture in police stations, adding that two women confirmed that policemen threatened them with rape. In at least eight cases, detainees have alleged torture.
For instance, one protester who spoke to The Intercept, Ali Basal, said he was arrested and held in custody overnight after allegedly chanting and banging on pots and pans. Basal said he was tortured by security personnel and subsequently suffered a broken rib, adding that authorities "mock-executed" him during interrogation proceedings.
Following months-long demonstrations, Lebanon formed a new government consisting of specialist ministers backed by political parties last week. Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a former minister of education and higher education and a former engineering professor, vowed to address the demands of the ongoing uprising.
Amnesty has thus urged the new cabinet to prioritize reigning in security forces and investigating their human rights violations.
"The new minister of interior must immediately rein in the ISF and order them to comply with international standards and respect the right to assembly. Acts of violence by a minority of protesters does not justify a violent dispersal but should have been dealt with in a targeted manner. Judicial authorities now have a crucial role to investigate the events of the weekend to provide redress for the victims and send a strong signal that this violence will not be tolerated," said Morayef.