Where did they go in Lebanon?

When the Lebanese national-unity government was formed following the Doha agreement in spring 2008, it pledged to uncover the fate of the thousands who "disappeared" during the country’s civil war. A year later, rights-groups say significant steps towards fulfilling the vow have yet to be made.
Relatives of the Lebanese disappeared who disappeared during the civil war (1975-1990) and in years during Syria's presence in Lebanon (1990-2005). © Alex Sandels

BEIRUT, May 15, 2009 (MENASSAT) - The last time Jeanette Joseph saw her brother, Milad Joseph, was twenty-six years ago, in 1983.

The civil war was raging,  and one day, her brother mysteriously disappeared from Beirut’s airport road. For twenty-five years, Jeanette didn't receive one shred of information on what had happened to her brother.

Was Milad dead? Had he been taken into detention? If so, where? These were some of the questions she used to ask herself over and over throughout the years.

Last year, in an unexpected development, Jeanette Joseph was approached by a man who claimed to have been in prison with her brother - in Syria. 

“He told me he had been with Milad in prison over there. In Tadmor, Syria,” Joseph told MENASSAT.

Jeanette Joseph now eagerly awaits the day when she will be able to see her brother again; something she is convinced she will do in the future.

Milad Joseph is one of the thousands of Lebanese who disappeared, were kidnapped, or put in secret detention during the civil war. While the exact number of disappearances during the war remains unknown, some put the estimate at around 17,000 people.

For 15-years following the civil war, dissidents opposing Syria’s continued presence in Lebanon were often subject to detainment - some were never heard from again.

Until this day, many of the families of the “disappeared” are still waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones on that day they didn’t come home, be it fifteen, twenty-five, or thirty-four years ago.

"We want the truth"

At the garden of Horsh Beirut, an area reported to contain several mass graves from the civil war, rights-groups launched their report “It is our right to know,” calling on the national Lebanese government to provide compensation to the families of the disappeared and to immediately make public the findings of the national committee on the cases of disappearances.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thirty four years have passed since the eruption of the war in Lebanon, and nineteen years have gone by since its end…and yet, the state is still intent on denying the families of victims of enforced disappearances their right to know what happened to their beloved, including whether they are still alive or not!” a spokeswoman representing the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), the Support of Lebanese in Detention and Exile (SOLIDE), and the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon read from the report.

Her statement was cheered on by a sizable audience of family members holding up old black and white pictures of their missing loved ones before photographers and TV cameras.

“We want to know what happened to our children. Let us know if they’re dead or alive. We want the truth,” one woman cried out.

“Yes, we’ve spent half our lives demonstrating in the streets,” another woman in her sixties filled in.

Reporters took down statements from relatives of the missing following the conference, surrounded by a crowd of mothers, sisters, and fathers, all seeking to share their stories.

“Ahmed Saad Eddin, 17, disappeared in 1976. Ali Mekki. Also went missing in 1976. 18-year old Jamal Maruf. Disappeared during the massacres in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila in 1982.”


For several years now, family members of the disappeared from all over the country have gathered day after day outside the United Nations ESCWA building in Beirut to protest the disappearance of their sons', brothers', or husbands' disappearances. Some of them setting up small tents at the location.

But these days, their cause doesn't seem to be attracting much attention.

“Nothing happens. At this point, it’s just us over there at ESCWA and some journalists every now and then,” one mother who regularly protests her son’s disappearance in 1976 outside the UN facility told MENASSAT.

As stipulated in the report, the organizations are demanding compensation from the Lebanese authorities for the “moral damage incurred to the families of victims of enforced disappearances, based on the violation of their right to know”.

If granted the compensation, the committees say they plan to establish a body that would provide the family members of the disappeared with vital services, such as psychological support.

If the government does not meet the demand, the organizations threaten to bring the motion before the State Consultative Council.

The second demand calls on the authorities to provide the committees with copies of the investigations and findings from the national commission that was set up to handle cases of forced disappearances in 2005.

In a related development, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch issued a report this week, urging the joint Syrian-Lebanese committee established to investigate cases of disappearances that involve Syrian security services to make official all the information the body has received in the last 4 years.

Political virginity

So why does Jeanette Joseph think the truth about her brother has been withheld from her up until now?

“The authorities are not doing anything. They’re scared of Syria…of asking questions on this subject,” she responds. “All they do in the Parliament is drink coffee”.

Wadih Al Asmar, Secretary General of CLDH told MENASSAT that the politicians simply don’t want to revisit information from the dark period of history that was the civil war - especially when Lebanese politicians wearing pressed and fitted suits were wearing military fatigues and black shades during their militia days.

“They don’t want to go back now that they think they have reached political virginity, wearing their ties and suits,” Al-Asmar said.

As for the upcoming Parliamentary elections, Joseph says she has hopes the issue of Lebanon's dissapeared would take precedent in the future.

And yes, she will cast her ballot on June 6 - for her brother.

“On that white piece of paper I’m putting in the box, I will write my brother’s name and no one else. Everyone who has a missing loved one should do this. Maybe that would help them understand something must be done,” she said.

CLDH’s website is available here.
SOLIDE’s website can be accessed here.