The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday called for a thorough, effective and independent investigation into the death of a detained 44-year-old Lebanese man, Hassan Toufic Dika, on 11 May.
Mr. Dika’s death occurred despite numerous interventions by a variety of UN entities, including the UN Human Rights Office, with the Lebanese authorities after he was allegedly tortured in prison following his arrest in November 2018, and was subsequently denied due process and deprived of timely essential medical care.
“The tragic death of Hassan Dika highlights what appears to be a number of very serious failings in Lebanon’s legal and prison systems,” the High Commissioner said. “The country’s own laws seem to have been ignored, both in terms of the failure to investigate the original allegations of torture – which were supported by compelling forensic medical reports – as well as the refusal to provide medical treatment.”
“In addition,” Bachelet continued, “legal procedures appear to have been flouted from the time of Mr. Dika’s arrest by Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, until his death on Saturday. For all these reasons, there must be an independent, prompt and credible investigation into all aspects of his case, in order to find out what went wrong and to ensure such situations no longer occur in Lebanon.”
Torture and other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment are totally prohibited in any circumstances under both international and Lebanese law. “If Mr. Dika was indeed tortured – as the medical evidence allegedly suggests – then those who ordered and committed this crime must be held accountable, as must anyone who denied him his right to receive medical care and anyone who deprived him of any of his legal rights,” the High Commissioner said.
In addition to several interventions by the UN Human Rights office in both Beirut and Geneva, three specialized independent UN experts* sent a letter on 25 January to the Lebanese government outlining their “grave concern regarding the alleged arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Mr. Dika since his arrest.”
They noted that Mr. Dika was arrested by the Internal Security Forces (ISF), on 3 November 2018, on drug-related charges. He was then held incommunicado and allegedly subjected to heavy beating including on his intimate parts, electric shocks and forced nudity, and subsequently forced into signing a confession.
On 5 November 2018, Mr. Dika was transferred to the detention place in the Palace of Justice in Baabda. It is only then that his family was informed about his whereabouts and about the charges brought against him.
On 23 November, a lawsuit was filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office alleging arbitrary arrest and torture and other ill-treatment in detention. However, in what appears to be clear contravention of Article 5 of Lebanon’s Law #65 on the Criminalization of Torture, enacted in October 2017, no investigation was launched, and the lawsuit was withdrawn (allegedly under pressure from the authorities) in March 2019.
A second lawsuit alleging torture was filed in December 2018, which also failed to trigger the investigation that should have been launched under Article 5.
In April, Mr. Dika was finally admitted to hospital after suffering partial paralysis of his left leg and severe pain in his back. He was reportedly unable to walk or stand.**
He died on 11 May 2019.
The High Commissioner also called on the Lebanese authorities, as a matter of urgency, to allocate resources to Lebanon’s National Commission for Human Rights, which, in line with the country’s international obligations, has a ‘Prevention Mechanism’ that can make a significant difference in implementing the provisions of the Convention Against Torture, including in places of detention.
* The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur on the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
** Under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the ‘Mandela Rules’), Rules 24 to 35 establish the State’s responsibility to provide healthcare for prisoners. In particular, Rule 27 indicate that prisoners who require specialized treatment or surgery shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals. Under Rule 71 of the Mandela Rules, States have a legal obligation to ensure that a competent authority, independent of the prison administration, conducts an investigation for all cases of deaths in custody, even where there are no allegations of ill-treatment.