(New York, October 28, 1999) Israel is responsible for Khiam prison in occupied south Lebanon and should take action to end abuses there, Human Rights Watch said today. Since the facility opened in 1985, hundreds of Lebanese have been arbitrarily detained in Khiam without charge for indefinite periods of time. Many of the detainees, including women, have been tortured during interrogation and subjected to abysmal conditions of confinement.
"This prison is operated entirely outside the law. Lebanese who are detained in Khiam have no idea when they will be released -- it could be months or it could be years," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "The international community should no longer accept the fiction that Israel has nothing to do with this prison. And Israel is bound by its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to address the violations that continue to occur at Khiam."
Israel is the occupying power in the territory in south Lebanon that it refers to as its "security zone." As the occupying power, Israel under international humanitarian law bears ultimate responsibility for its own actions and the actions of the SLA, its local Lebanese auxiliary, that affect the civilian population.
There are currently 141 Lebanese detained in Khiam without charge, according to the Beirut-based Follow-Up Committee for the Support of Lebanese Detainees in Israeli Prisons. The Lebanese most recently detained in Khiam include Cosette Ibrahim, a 25-year-old journalist who was taken into custody in early September 1999 while visiting her parents in the village of Rmeish in the occupied zone. The longest-held detainee is Suleiman Ramadan, who has been imprisoned without charge since September 1985. Those released from long years in Khiam often require medical care, and physical and psychological rehabilitation.
Israel for years has maintained that the prison is administered by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), the Lebanese militia that Israel finances and arms and which serves as its auxiliary in occupied south Lebanon. Israel's ministry of defense, in an affidavit submitted to Israel's High Court of Justice in September 1999, stated that "the interrogators, the jailers, and all of the staff of the facility are Lebanese," and that Khiam is "under the responsibility" of the SLA. But the defense ministry also acknowledged that personnel from Israel's General Security service, or Shin Bet, "hold meetings several times annually with SLA interrogators" and "cooperate with members of the SLA, and even assist them by means of professional guidance and training." It also admitted that Israel and the SLA "consult each other regarding the arrest and release of people in the Khiam facility."
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch documented cases of Lebanese civilians who were tortured in Khiam while detained there without charge during the 1980s and 1990s. Torture is categorically prohibited under international law. Torture and inhuman treatment also constitute grave breaches of the Geneva conventions.
Human Rights Watch today called on the Israeli government to respect international humanitarian and human rights law in occupied south Lebanon, and to take the following steps:
Stop the practice of arbitrary arrest and detention of Lebanese civilians outside the framework of the law.
Immediately end the practice of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in Khiam prison and other places of detention in occupied south Lebanon.
Investigate past and present reports of torture and ill-treatment at Khiam and other places of detention, and bring to justice the perpetrators and participants, whether Lebanese or Israeli.
Permit representatives of local and international human rights organizations access to occupied south Lebanon to visit Khiam and meet with detainees.