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August 31 2009 | LEBANON

Lebanon

Justice Ministry campaigns to abolish death penalty

 
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The Daily Star - Lebanon

Justice Ministry campaigns to abolish death penalty

Draft amendment to outlaw punishment awaits Cabinet approval

By Josie Ensor

Saturday, August 29, 2009

BEIRUT: The Justice Ministry has launched a nationwide campaign this week to rally public support for seven draft amendments that are awaiting Cabinet approval, among them the controversial abolishment of the country’s death penalty. Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told The Daily Star that the amendments have been presented to the Cabinet and that the campaign has been started to put pressure on ministers to pass the reforms through to Parliament.

The minister stressed in particular that the abolishment of the death penalty, the most contentious of the reform bills, should be implemented immediately in the interests of “more humane and more efficient justice.”

Najjar is calling for revoking Penal Code articles that allow courts to issue death sentences, replacing them instead with a life sentence with hard labor.

“Science has proved that there is no causal relationship between crime and the presence or absence of the death penalty,” Najjar said, adding that he believed the sentence of life imprisonment could prove to be more effective in reducing violent acts.

Najjar said on World Against the Death Penalty Day in October last year, when the proposal was first made public, that dropping capital punishment was in line with religious and humanitarian values, as well as Lebanon’s own legal culture, and was supported by criminology studies, which, he said, revealed that preventative measures were more effective than the death penalty in reducing crime.

There have been 51 executions carried out since the country’s independence in 1943, with Lebanon one of 58 countries remaining worldwide that continues to hand down the death penalty, according to Amnesty International, which has campaigned for the total abolishment of the death penalty since 1977.

Despite the ministry’s recent move to replace the sentence, which has been met with support from local NGOs and international rights groups, some Lebanese officials continue to advocate the penalty.

As recently as March, military prosecutor Rashid Mezher announced he would seek to execute the two brothers – Youssef and Ali Jarrah – accused of spying for Israel and forgery. The death penalty is usually reserved for suspects convicted of spying for Israel, high treason and acts of terrorism that threaten state security.

 

The ministry is currently running a series of advertisements in the local media to create greater awareness of the proposed reforms, which feature messages in Arabic urging the public to get behind the campaign in the name of justice.

Meanwhile, the ministry has also put its weight behind a reduction of the period of time during which suspects in a crime may be detained.

The lengthy detention of the four high-ranking military and security officials suspected of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri prompted the ministry’s move.

The “four generals” were held without charge from 2005 until Daniel Bellemare, the special prosecutor for the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), ordered their release in April of this year.

“I couldn’t believe people were detained on suspicion without a clear accusation,” Najjar commented.

He expressed hope that the reform campaign would succeed in bringing about a reduction of detention time for those held without evidence against them.

However, he cautioned that the STL and the rest of the country’s judiciary must continue to operate independently and with little political inference so as not to compromise the seeing through of justice.

The campaign is also pushing for the faster issuing of verdicts once a suspect has been brought into custody. Najjar said a high rate of “administrative detentions” was responsible for the delay.

“It is not acceptable that trials be put on hold because we do not have a place to hold [suspects],” Najjar said, referring to the related problem of overcrowding in prisons.

The ministry is also campaigning to increase the penalty for domestic violence, which under current law has a maximum available sentence of just three years for battery.

The ministry also hopes to “advance judicial equity for women,” particularly with regard to greater citizenship rights for Lebanese women married to foreign men and their children

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