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Death Penalty Information

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lebanon: Harri assassination could lead to abolition of the death penalty
Hariri assassination case has served to re-energize opponents of death penalty

By Raed El Rafei
Daily Star staff
Thursday, September 07, 2006
BEIRUT: After years of struggle by human-rights activists, abolishing capital punishment is finally on the Lebanese political agenda. Ironically, the change comes not in response to concerns raised by civil society, but as the result of what has been described as the most "atrocious" assassination of the country's modern history, the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Lebanon and the UN started discussing the establishment of an international court to try the perpetrators a few months ago; but since then, a major legal obstacle has surfaced: International law does not tolerate the death penalty, which is, however, a sentence deeply rooted in Lebanon's judicial culture.
But the impasse could lead to a compromise alternative where the country is not forced to amend its internal laws. According to a judicial source, the agreement between Lebanon and the UN over the tribunal could state instead that the death penalty is not to be practiced in Hariri's case.
With UN Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicola Michel arriving in Beirut late Wednesday to present a proposal for the court, which should include the exclusion of the death sentence in this case, the subject has again risen to the forefront with many hoping to abolish the sentence for good.
Lawyer and civil rights advocate Nizar Saghieh described the alternative of getting rid of the sentence in this particular case alone as "illogical." "For the sake of legal harmony, we cannot abolish capital punishment in the trial of the most dangerous crimes and maintain it for the less dangerous ones," he said.
Crimes punishable by the death penalty in Lebanese law include mainly premeditated homicides, terrorist crimes which jeopardize state security, and high treason.
Discussions over the legal technicalities of the international tribunal are still under way. Judicial authorities are tightlipped about what the final agreement would stipulate regarding corporal punishment, the judicial source said.
Meanwhile, a group of civil activists has seized the present situation to revive the long-time fight against capital punishment.
Walid Slaybi, one of the most prominent Lebanese figures to voice their objections to death penalty, is currently lobbying for a new law that would reverse the death penalty.
The draft law stipulates: "The abolishment of the death penalty from all Lebanese laws, particularly from the penal code and the replacement of this sentence by lifetime imprisonment with or without hard labor." Slaybi, along with a number of civil groups, MP Ghassan Moukheiber and other MPs in the human rights parliamentary committee, is circulating the proposal within Parliament hoping to submit it for an official vote soon.
Slaybi, who heads the Lebanese Association for Civil Rights, said as well as abolishing the death penalty, the proposal allows judges the possibility of reducing a criminal's sentence based on "his behavior and ability to reintegrate into society."
"We believe the purpose of imprisonment is mainly to socially rehabilitate criminals," he said, adding that society should bear a partial responsibility for any crime.
Civil groups are also planning to take their grievance to Justice Minister Charles Rizk and Premier Fouad Siniora, Slaybi said.
Moreover, they want to ask Siniora for an official suspension of death sentences until the new law is passed.

In fact, a de facto moratorium on death penalty has been effective since 1998 following pressure from the European Commission to ban the death penalty; it was, however, violated after the UNESCO mass murder.
In early 2004, the most recent death sentence was carried out when UNESCO mass murderer Ahmad Mansour (a Shiite) was hanged. To ensure confessional balance, Badieh Hamadeh (a Sunni), convicted of shooting to death three members of Lebanese Army intelligence trying to arrest him in South Lebanon on July 11, 2002, and Remy Antoine Zaatar (a Christian), who was convicted of murdering two Civil Defense colleagues in June 2000, were executed by firing squad on the same day.
Although a large number of death sentences have been passed since Lebanon's independence, only 51 people have been executed. This figure does not include sentences issued during the Civil War when the judicial system collapsed and militias passed "sentences" without trials.
According to Saghieh, death sentences have been typically carried out during critical political situations: after the revolution in 1958, following the Israeli invasion in 1982 and after the end of the war in 1990.
"Following the war, the state wanted to prove it was in control of the country's security and this lead to the execution of death sentences," Saghieh said.
The security-driven logic of the state led to "the killer is to be killed" law in 1994.
The "danger" of this law is "did not allow judges to have any leeway to reduce the sentence in a murder case," Saghieh said, adding that the law did not differentiate between premeditated killings and nonpremeditated ones.
In 1997, a wide national civil movement against capital punishment emerged.
But protests and media campaigns especially intensified in 1998 when the hanging of two men convicted of murder was carried out in a public square in the Kesrouan town of Tabarja despite strong opposition from Premier Salim al-Hoss.
In May 1998, Hasan Nada Abu Jabal and Wisam Nayif Issa were hanged in public in the central square of Tabarja, north of Beirut. The bodies of the two men reportedly remained on display for an hour and the executions were broadcast by television stations in Lebanon and abroad. This was the first public hanging in Lebanon since the expansion of the scope of the death penalty in 1994.
As a result of civil lobbying, Parliament finally voted in 2001 to abolish "the killer is to be killed law." Although abolishing this law gave judges the option of taking into account mitigating factors, it did not ban the death penalty from the Lebanese penal code.
In 2004, the movement against capital punishment was revived when seven MPs put forward a draft law to reverse death penalty. The draft law did not make its way, however, to the Parliament's general assembly.
Slaybi said he was confident the civil groups' draft law would be passed by Parliament.
"What we need is courage from MPs," he said, adding that an informal poll conducted among the members of the former Parliament showed 74 percent of lawmakers were for an immediate or gradual abolition of capital punishment.
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