WED 22 - 5 - 2019
May 14, 2019
The Daily Star
HRW calls for probe into detainee’s death
Corporal punishment still common in schools: rights group
BEIRUT: A Human Rights Watch official Monday called for an impartial investigation into the death of a detainee in Lebanese custody who had allegedly been tortured by security personnel.
“Lebanese officials never looked into Hassan al-Dika’s allegations of torture and ill-treatment - sadly his death in custody highlights the urgent need for an impartial investigation,” HRW’s acting Middle East Director Lama Fakih said.
Dika, 46, who was detained in November 2018 on drug-related charges, died Saturday after sustaining injuries while being tortured, according to his father, Toufic Dika.
Toufic Dika told AFP Monday that he blamed “the security agency that arrested [his son] and the judges who were aware of the torture he was subject to.”
Toufic Dika previously said that the torture had caused his son to suffer a severe back injury and paralysis in his left leg. Dika was taken to hospital on April 2.
Toufic Dika said he had filed a lawsuit against the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch.
In a statement Sunday, Dika’s father also accused both Mount Lebanon Prosecutor Ghada Aoun and First Investigative Judge Nicolas Mansour of refusing to follow up on the lawsuit in an attempt to “cover” some of the Information Branch’s members.
Mansour replied Sunday by denying that he had neglected to accept the case, saying Aoun had decided that appointing a doctor to examine the detainee was “not under the public prosecution’s jurisdiction.”
Aoun denied Monday in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency that she had neglected the Dika case, saying she followed procedure and ensured he had been taken to a hospital for treatment.
“I moved the detainee to the hospital and appointed a medical committee to examine him,” Aoun’s statement said, adding that Dika’s file had been under the purview of Mansour for “a number of weeks,” and that he “could have released [Dika] if he had been suffering from serious illness.” Neither Aoun nor Mansour addressed the torture allegations in their statements.
The state prosecution has opened an investigation into the cause of Dika’s death, a source close to the investigation told The Daily Star, adding that both Mansour and Aoun had ordered doctors to inspect Dika.
A doctor’s report received by Mansour showed that Dika suffered from a spinal disk injury and a broken bone in his leg, which “is not a serious issue that would cause his death,” but he was transferred to a hospital anyway, according to the source.
About Aoun’s remark that Mansour could have ordered Dika’s release, the source said a detainee could not be released for medical treatment but had to be transported to a hospital with a security escort.
The ISF had released a counterclaim Sunday to the torture allegations, claiming that recordings between Toufic Dika and a doctor show the two agreeing to draw up a false medical report saying his son had been tortured.
It said the doctor, N.M., had been placed under arrest for forging medical reports, and that N.M. supposedly admitted to providing fraudulent documents when confronted with the audio files.
Interior Minister Raya El Hassan and Justice Minister Albert Serhan both expressed regret for Dika’s death Sunday, pledging to carry out a full investigation.
Corporal punishment still common in schools: rights group
Abby Sewell| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: In spite of attempts in recent years to curb the practice of corporal punishment in Lebanese schools, violent punishment of children remains common, a newly released report by Human Rights Watch has found. The issue cuts across both private and public schools and affects Lebanese children as well as Syrian refugees attending Lebanese schools, according to the report.
Researchers interviewed 51 children who said they “had been beaten, verbally abused, or humiliated by staff,” as well as parents, teachers, school staff and administrators, NGO workers and officials with the Education Ministry and other public bodies.
In one case cited in the report, a 10-year-old Lebanese boy attending a private school had his nose broken by a teacher. In another, a teacher hit a 9-year-old boy with a book, breaking his two front teeth. A boy undergoing leukemia treatment was allegedly called a “donkey” and had his hair pulled by both a teacher and the director of a public school.
“Children interviewed in this report described how teachers whipped them on the hands, feet and faces with implements including an electrical cable, a rubber hose and a thick wooden stick; hit them on the back of the neck and head or slapped them in the face; pulled their hair and ears; slammed their heads into the school desk; and shoved them into the walls of classrooms or corridors,” the report said.
The Education Ministry has taken steps to prohibit corporal punishment, the researchers noted. But they said that enforcement needed to be increased along with training teachers and staff on nonviolent discipline methods.
Education Minister Akram Chehayeb could not be reached for comment Monday. A ministry official responsible for child protection, reached by telephone, said she had not yet seen the report and needed time to read it before commenting.
HRW researcher Bill Van Esveld said the aim of the report was to “support the ministry’s positive steps to end violent discipline in schools and to make those steps more effective.”
The Education Ministry has officially prohibited corporal punishment in public schools since 1974 and in 2011 issued a circular banning the practice in both private and public schools, the report noted.
A countrywide survey conducted by Saint Joseph University that year found that 76 percent of 1,177 schoolchildren interviewed said they had been subjected to physical violence by teachers or administrators in schools.
In 2015, the ministry set up a hotline for complaints about the treatment of children in schools, and in 2018 issued a child protection policy once again prohibiting corporal punishment and increased the number of counselors in schools.
Ministry officials said the ministry had received 195 complaints regarding corporal punishment or violence by school staff since 2017, Van Esveld said, but it was unclear how many of those had resulted in teachers or staff being disciplined.
Until 2014, teachers were exempt from criminal prosecution for corporal punishment under Lebanese law. The exemption was removed after a video of a school director beating the feet of three young boys with a stick for failing an exam went viral, drawing widespread outrage.
However, the criminal code still does not explicitly criminalize corporal punishment; the HRW report recommended that it should.
In spite of a large body of research showing that corporal punishment has negative psychological and behavioral effects, hitting children remains widely accepted in Lebanese society. In a recently released survey by World Vision Lebanon, 28 percent of parents surveyed reported using violent discipline on their children, although the research noted that the actual number was likely higher. Corporal punishment by parents remains legal.
The Lebanese school system has been under increased pressure in recent years, with the population of students in public schools essentially doubling as a result of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Although some of the cases outlined in the HRW report involved Lebanese children, the majority of the children interviewed were Syrian. Researchers noted that in some cases, Syrian parents were more reluctant to report abusive treatment of their children in schools because they lacked legal residency and were afraid of reprisals. Instead, in some cases, Syrian parents simply pulled their children out of school because of abusive treatment.
At a news conference accompanying the report’s release Monday, a woman who identified herself as a teacher in a school but declined to give her name or the name of the school disputed the characterization that the hitting of children was widespread. She said prohibition on corporal punishment and even on verbal abuse was enforced. “If you so much as call a pupil a ‘donkey’ they will make an investigation, and you will get into something you can’t get out of,” she said. “If you want to give punishment, it has to be acceptable and it has to be purposeful.”
However, she acknowledged, “Of course, there are exceptional cases. The students drive the teachers crazy. They bring them to a place where the teacher might behave in a reflexive way.”
Van Esveld said that was the reason his organization was calling for more training. For most teachers, he said, “the heart is in the right place, but we think the teachers need to be given the tools to do the right thing, even in very difficult circumstances, and to be held accountable if they’re violating the rules.”
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