Identifying the Root Causes of Detention Overuse in Lebanon

March 2012

Nearly three-quarters of those detained in Lebanese prisons are awaiting trial, and overcrowding and poor conditions have led to repeated riots in the central prison in Roumieh. While the Lebanese government has moved to reduce prison populations, the root causes of detention overuse have yet to be discovered and addressed, and reforms based on evidence and international standards have yet to be implemented. With support from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) recently undertook an assessment of criminal detention procedure in Lebanon to identify the underlying causes of the high rates of pre-trial detention and imprisonment sentences. 

ABA ROLI’s assessment studies the legislative framework for detention as well as the actual practices being implemented, and analyzes Lebanese law and practice in light of internationally accepted standards. The assessment team conducted interviews with more than 50 Lebanese judges, prosecutors, attorneys, social workers, former prisoners and representatives of civil society organizations, and also observed public proceedings at felony and misdemeanor courts in Baabda, Beirut and Tripoli.

According to assessment team member Jessie Tannenbaum, a senior legal analyst with ABA ROLI, the team made several preliminary findings. Although pre-trial detention is never mandatory, many within the justice system behave as if detention is automatic. Furthermore, a complex criminal procedure allows many opportunities for delay, a problem that is compounded by absenteeism by lawyers, complainants and even defendants at court hearings. Foreign citizens accused of crimes face special challenges, as they find themselves detained indefinitely by immigration authorities even if a judge decides to release them pending trial.

The assessment team is collaborating with a working group of Lebanese lawyers, judges and prosecutors to develop targeted, evidence-based recommendations for detention regime reforms. With the road map provided by ABA ROLI’s assessment, the implementation of the working group’s recommendations may help ensure that future defendants are afforded due process and alternatives to detention. The report will be published in April.   

To learn more about out work in Lebanon, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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