Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September 2014, 13:28 GMT

Lebanon: Information on South Lebanese Army (SLA) members and their families after the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 21 February 2002
Citation / Document Symbol LBN02001.SND
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Lebanon: Information on South Lebanese Army (SLA) members and their families after the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, 21 February 2002, LBN02001.SND, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3f51fb0f4.html [accessed 19 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Query:

The applicant claims his father was a member of the South Lebanese Army (SLA) and was arrested in July 2000 after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon and Hezbollah took control. The applicant claims he has also been accused of being a member of the SLA (though he is not) and that he was forced to leave Lebanon because Hezbollah soldiers were looking for him. The applicant produced a document in Arabic which purportedly states that the applicant is in hiding and is suspected by the Lebanese authorities of dealing with the SLA. The document also purportedly states that the applicant's father is in jail for his involvement in SLA activities. The document is allegedly signed by a member of the Internal Security Forces. Please provide information on the role of the Internal Security Forces in Lebanon and on the official who allegedly signed the document produced by the applicant. Also, please provide information on the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon at the time the applicant claims. Who controls southern Lebanon currently? Lastly, please provide current information on the situation of the SLA and their family members in southern Lebanon.

Response:

The Resource Information Center is unable to provide information either on the official who allegedly signed the documentation presented by the applicant, or on the validity of the documentation.

In a telephone interview, an Amnesty International representative stated that the possibility of safe return to Lebanon of a family member, particularly a son, of a former SLA member who is allegedly incarcerated in Lebanon for SLA activities depends on several factors. It is necessary to know the level of SLA involvement of the detained father, and whether or not the father has since been freed. The representative stated that most, though not all, SLA members who received harsher sentences for their SLA involvement, e.g., 15 years imprisonment or the death penalty, are outside Lebanon (20 Feb. 2002). Many former SLA members were sentenced to just weeks or months imprisonment, and one SLA defendant was recently sentenced to four years imprisonment for "physically and morally torturing" prisoners in al-Khiam detention center during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon (AI 16 Nov. 2001). All former SLA members who have received death sentences to date were tried in absentia and are currently outside the country (20 Feb. 2002). "The length of sentences seem[s] to correspond to the level of responsibility held by the defendants within the SLA" (AI 16 Nov. 2001). If the father of the applicant is still incarcerated and/or had a higher level of responsibility in the SLA, then it may be more likely that the son would be picked up by the authorities upon return to Lebanon. If the father is no longer incarcerated, or if he was handed a lighter sentence due to a low level of SLA involvement, then it may be less likely that the son will be picked up by the authorities (20 Feb. 2002).

BACKGROUND

Much of Lebanon is controlled by non-Lebanese military and paramilitary forces. Specifically, around 25,000 troops from Syria, Lebanon's neighbor to the northeast, are deployed throughout the country (except the south) with the agreement of the Lebanese government (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1983; AI 2001, 155). There are also several armed Palestinian groups which "act autonomously" in refugee camps throughout the country but whose movements are highly restricted (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1984). Until May 2000, parts of southern Lebanon were controlled by Israel, Lebanon's southern neighbor, and Israel's Lebanese ally, the South Lebanese Army (SLA) (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1983, 1984).

Prior to its collapse upon Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, "[t]he SLA maintained a separate and arbitrary system of justice in the zone [controlled by Israeli forces], which was independent of Lebanese central authority... [SLA] officials arbitrarily arrested, mistreated, and detained persons, and sometimes expelled local residents from their homes in the zone" (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1984-1985).

In May 2000, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew from Israel's self-described security zone in southern Lebanon after 22 years of military occupation. Sources indicate that although the IDF intended to conduct an orderly hand-over of control of these areas to the SLA, the situation became chaotic with many residents of the area fleeing to Israel in fear of retribution from the Hezbollah and the Lebanese military (ICRC 9 March 2001, Harel 23 May 2000). As reported in Ha'aretz, a leading Israeli daily: "In less than 24 hours [after the start of the IDF pull-out], Hezbollah took control of the central part of the security zone and large parts of the western zone, mostly without firing a shot... SLA officers and their families arrived at border crossings and asked for asylum in Israel" (Harel 23 May 2000).

By July 2000, an estimated 2,300 residents of southern Lebanon had been jailed by the Hezbollah and Lebanese security forces. "After several days of incommunicado detention, interrogation, and in some cases torture..., most of the detainees [were] being herded through...ninety-second show trials that Amnesty International has called 'travesties of justice,' while others [had] simply 'disappeared'" (MEIB 1 July 2000). The residents of south Lebanon who had "disappeared" were reportedly abducted by the Hezbollah (MEIB 1 July 2000). Amnesty International reported that by the end of 2000, hundreds of former SLA members had been arrested in Lebanon and received summary trials (2001, 155). In articulating its concerns over these trials, Amnesty stated that spending "barely seven minutes" per defendant "neither allowed the innocent to be acquitted nor ensured that those who committed war crimes, including the systematic torture of detainees in Khiam [prison], would be discovered" (2001, 155).

According to the U.S. Department of State, prison conditions in Lebanon are poor, with overcrowding and inadequate toilet facilities and medical care. Torture is not specifically forbidden by the Lebanese Constitution, and is reportedly a "common practice," according to human rights monitors (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1986). "Credible reports" of abuse and torture of detainees by Lebanese security forces continued throughout 2000 (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1986). The Amnesty International representative interviewed by the Resource Information Center stated that most SLA detainees are held in Roumieh prison where torture is not known to occur, but where general conditions are not good due to overcrowding and other concerns (20 Feb. 2002).

On August 9, 2000, the Lebanese government deployed a 1,000-strong Joint Security Force composed of members of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) (UN 31 Oct. 2000, 2). The ISF "enforces laws, conducts searches and arrests, and refers cases to the judiciary" (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1984). The Lebanese security forces in the formerly Israeli-occupied zone, are currently composed of members of the ISF, the LAF, and the State Security Apparatus and the Surete Generale. "[B]oth [the State Security Apparatus and the Surete Generale] ...collect information on groups deemed a possible threat to state security..." (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1984). The Lebanese security forces "...committed serious human rights abuses [in 2000]" (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1984).

By October 2000, the Joint Security Force, headquartered in Marjayoun and Bint Jubayl, had begun to re-establish Lebanese control in areas such as Naqoura and Jezzine, through activities which include "...intensive patrolling, with occasional roadblocks" (UN 31 Oct. 2000, 2). Moreover, by October 2000 there was a growing presence of Lebanese police, administrators, and other officials who were working to reintegrate communications, health, welfare and other systems in the former Israeli-controlled areas with those in the rest of Lebanon (UN 31 Oct. 2000, 2). The United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) also increased its presence in areas formerly occupied by Israel after the latter's withdrawal (USDOS Sept. 2001, 1984).

The area around the "Blue Line" (the UN-drawn border/withdrawal line between Israel and Lebanon), however, was and remains in control of the Hezbollah, who moved into the border region after the Israelis pulled out (UN 31 Oct. 2000, 2; FH 2001, 320; People's Daily Online 5 Oct. 2001). According to the U.S. Department of State, "Hezbollah is still in control of parts of [Lebanon], though to a lesser extent than in the past" (4 Feb. 2002).

Despite international and UN pressure, the government of Lebanon adamantly refuses to secure its border with Israel without a formal peace agreement between the two countries (FH 2001, 321). Since Israeli forces left Lebanon in May 2000, the UN has repeatedly denounced breaches of the Blue Line by Hezbollah, Lebanese, and Israeli forces, imploring the Lebanese government to take control of the area and calling on all sides to end violence along the border (People's Daily Online 5 Oct. 2001, Lederer 30 Jan. 2001, WAY 9 Jan. 2002). The U.S. Department of State reports, however, that in general "[t]he cycle of violence in and around the former Israeli controlled security zone decreased significantly following the IDF withdrawal in May [2000]" (Sept. 2001, 1985).

After the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, the Anti-Defamation League reported:

"Israel is admitting SLA personnel and their families into Israel. They are being sent to hotels and guest houses throughout Israel and [Israeli] Interior Ministry staff will visit each family and provide them with one-year residency permits that include the right to work, health insurance and other social benefits" (2001, 2).

Agence France Presse (AFP) reported:

"Following Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon...around 6,500 people, mostly SLA members and their families, fled to Israel for fear of reprisals by the Shiite Muslim fundamentalist group Hezbollah or of criminal charges" (15 Nov. 2001).

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross:

"Immediately after the withdrawal [of Israeli forces from Lebanon], some 5,000 people fled [Lebanon] and entered Israel... Over 2,000 former members of the SLA militia and civilians living in the south [of Lebanon] surrendered or were arrested by the Lebanese police or by armed groups... By the end of the year [2000], around 2,000 [people had returned to Lebanon due in part to installation of security measures in the areas vacated by the IDF]" (9 Mar. 2001, 1).

In August 2001, Israeli Minister of the Interior, Eli Yishay, announced that SLA members and their families residing in Israel at that time would be entitled to Israeli ID cards, thus changing their legal status from temporary to permanent residents of Israel and granting them access to all benefits enjoyed by Israeli citizens (CGINY 2 Aug. 2001, 3). In November 2001, there were as many as 4,000 SLA members still in Israel, according to senior officials in Israel's Ministry of Interior (CGINY 6 Nov. 2001, 2).

According to various Agence France Presse reports, by late 2001, over half of the nearly 6,500 people who had fled to Israel following the IDF's withdrawal from Lebanon had returned to Lebanon, mostly in small groups. Two reports of returns in November and December 2001 state that adult male returnees were "handed over to the Lebanese army for interrogation" (26 Dec. 2001), with one report stating that the men were known former SLA members (6 Dec. 2001). One report states that around 100 wives and children of former SLA members were "initially searched and interrogated by the Lebanese army" before greeting relatives on the Lebanese side of the border (15 Nov. 2001). In November 2001, Amnesty International reported that "[t]his month alone up to 70 people returned [to Lebanon] and we understand many surrendered themselves to the Lebanese authorities. Eighteen of them were reportedly arrested" (16 Nov. 2001).

The Israeli government offered compensation ($35,000 per family with an additional $2,000 per child, and $15,000 for single returnees) to the Lebanese who fled there at the end of Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and who were willing to return to Lebanon by the end of December 2001. In mid-December 2001, Israel's Defense Ministry announced that "...2,500 Lebanese have returned home since the compensation was announced" and that only around 1,200 Lebanese who entered the country on the heels of Israel's military departure from Lebanon were expected to remain in Israel (Strich 14 Dec. 2001).

Agence France Presse also reported:

"Most of [the Lebanese] have stayed unemployed in Israel, where they live in hotels or youth hostels on meager monthly handouts from the Israeli army, while their children failed to integrate in Israeli schools. The Lebanese have also faced a boycott from Arab Israelis and only about 320 families managed to adapt to Israeli society, setting up home in northern communities such as Kiryat Shmona or Safed" (Strich 14 Dec. 2001).

As of late December 2001, over 2200 former SLA combatants had been captured by or surrendered to Lebanese authorities (Jerusalem Post 27 Dec. 2001). Most former SLA detainees were held incommunicado for up to ten days, and some alleged abuse and/or torture by their captors (AI 2001, 155; USDOS Sept. 2001, 1986). The Amnesty International representative cited three known cases of torture of SLA detainees (20 Feb. 2002). In 2000, at least two SLA detainees died in prison, apparently from natural causes, although poor conditions may have hastened their deaths. One detainee died allegedly due to refusal by prison officials to provide him his diabetes medication. No proper investigation into these deaths is known to have been carried out by the Lebanese authorities (AI 2001, 155; AI 21 Feb. 2002; USDOS Sept. 2001, 1987).

Sixty-seven former SLA combatants had been sentenced to death in absentia by the Lebanese military court, with the last two sentenced in December 2001 (Jerusalem Post 27 Dec. 2001). Of those sentenced to death, Amnesty International has stated: "We understand they...are people who held key positions within the SLA" (16 Nov. 2001).

The U.S. Department of State reported: "Some of the former SLA militiamen were charged under Article 273 of the Penal Code for taking up arms against the state, an offense punishable by death; others were charged under Article 285 of the Penal Code for trading with the enemy, an offense punishable by a minimum of 1 year in prison. ...[F]ormer SLA members received sentences ranging from 1 week to life in prison. About one-third of the former SLA members received 1-year sentences and about one-third received sentences of 3 to 4 weeks... Two persons who were implicated in the abuse and torture of prisoners at Al-Khiam prison were sentenced to life" (Sept. 2001, 1989). Overall, "[a]round 3,000 SLA members have been tried in Lebanese military court for collaboration [with the Israelis]..." (AFP 15 Nov. 2001).

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut reports that sentences against former SLA members are "typically lenient" and that their trials, though summary in nature, have been open to journalists and U.S. diplomats, among others (USDOS/DRL 4 Feb. 2002). The Embassy further reports that it has heard of no instances of Hezbollah harassment of former SLA members in the past year or so (USDOS/DRL 4 Feb. 2002). Amnesty International states: "We are not aware of targeting by Hizbullah of former members of the SLA. Hizbullah have, as far as we [Amnesty International] know, transferred such people on their surrender to the care of the Lebanese authorities" (16 Nov. 2001).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References:

Agence France Presse (AFP). "20 Lebanese Exiles Return From Israel" (26 December 2001). URL: http://www.lebanon.com/news/local/2001/12/26.htm

Agence France Presse (AFP). "70 Families of Refugees in Israel Return to Lebanon" (6 December 2001). URL: http://www.lebanon.com/news/local/2001/12/6.htm

Agence France Presse (AFP). "Wives and Children of Lebanese Militiamen Return Home from Israeli Exile" (15 November 2001). URL: http://www.lebanon.com/news/local/2001/11/15.htm

Amnesty International (AI). "Lebanon," AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT 2001 (New York: 2001), p. 154-156.

Amnesty International (AI). Letter regarding situation of former SLA members in Lebanon (London: 16 November 2001), 1 p.

Amnesty International Representative. Email to the INS Resource Information Center (London: 21 February 2002).

Amnesty International Representative. Telephone interview (London: 20 February 2002).

Anti-Defamation League (ADL). "Israel's Withdrawal from Lebanon" (2001). URL: http://www.adl.org/backgrounders/lebanon_withdrawal.html

Consulate General of Israel in New York (CGINY). "Relatives of slain SLA Officers Awarded Israeli Citizenship," ISRAEL LINE (New York: 6 November 2001). URL: http://www.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in New York (CGINY). "SLA Soldiers Will Receive Israeli ID Cards," ISRAEL LINE (New York: 2 August 2001). URL: http://www.mfa.gov.il

Freedom House (FH). "Lebanon," FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2000-2001 (New York: 2001), p. 320-324.

Harel, Amos. "Withdrawing from Lebanon," HA'ARETZ (23 May 2000) URL: http://www2.haaretz.co.il/special/lebanon-e/d/114125.asp

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "The ICRC in Lebanon," ICRC ANNUAL REPORT 2000 (9 March 2001). URL: http://www.icrc.org/icrceng.nsf/Index

JERUSALEM POST. "Lebanon Condemns Two Ex-SLA Men to Death" (27 December 2001). URL: http://www.jpost.com

Lederer, Edith M. Associated Press. "Security Council Unanimously Approves Cut in UN Force in Lebanon" (30 January 2001). URL: http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/lebanon/2001/0130.htm

MIDDLE EAST INTELLIGENCE BULLETIN (MEIB). "South Lebanese Face Abductions, Torture and 90-Second Show Trials" (United States Committee for a Free Lebanon, 1 July 2000). URL: http://www.meib.org/articles/0007_13.htm

PEOPLE'S DAILY ONLINE. "Blue Line Is Sacred, Inviolable: UN Official" (5 October 2001). URL: http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200110/05/print20011005_81622.html

Strich, Jo. Agence France Presse. "Israel's Former Allies Head Home to Lebanon From Bitter Exile" (14 December 2001). URL: http://www.lebanon.com/news/local/2001/12/14.htm

UN Security Council (UN). INTERIM REPORT OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE UNITED NATIONS INTERIM FORCE IN LEBANON (31 October 2000, S/2000/1049). URL: http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/reports/2000/sgrep00.htm

U.S. Department of State (USDOS). "Lebanon," COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2000 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 2001), p. 1983-1998.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Office of Asylum Affairs (USDOS/DRL). Email to the INS Resource Information Center (Washington, D.C.: 4 February 2002).

World Assembly of Youth (WAY). "Security Council Members Condemn Violence Along Lebanon's Withdrawal Line" (9 January 2002). URL: http://www.worldassemblyofyouth.org/way%20info/un_news/violence%20Lebonan-21.htm

Attachments:

Amnesty International (AI). Letter regarding situation of former SLA members in Lebanon (London: 16 November 2001), 1 p.

Amnesty International (AI). "Lebanon," AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT 2001 (New York: 2001), p. 154-156.

Consulate General of Israel in New York (CGINY). "Relatives of slain SLA Officers Awarded Israeli Citizenship," ISRAEL LINE (New York: 6 November 2001). URL: http://www.mfa.gov.il

Consulate General of Israel in New York (CGINY). "SLA Soldiers Will Receive Israeli ID Cards," ISRAEL LINE (New York: 2 August 2001). URL: http://www.mfa.gov.il

Freedom House (FH). "Lebanon," FREEDOM IN THE WORLD 2000-2001 (New York: 2001), p. 320-324.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "The ICRC in Lebanon," ICRC ANNUAL REPORT 2000 (9 March 2001). URL: http://www.icrc.org/icrceng.nsf/Index

JERUSALEM POST. "Lebanon Condemns Two Ex-SLA Men to Death" (27 December 2001). URL: http://www.jpost.com

MIDDLE EAST INTELLIGENCE BULLETIN (MEIB). "South Lebanese Face Abductions, Torture and 90-Second Show Trials" (United States Committee for a Free Lebanon, 1 July 2000). URL: http://www.meib.org/articles/0007_13.htm

UN Security Council (UN). INTERIM REPORT OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE UNITED NATIONS INTERIM FORCE IN LEBANON (31 October 2000, S/2000/1049). URL: http://www.un.org/Docs/sc/reports/2000/sgrep00.htm

U.S. Department of State (USDOS). "Lebanon," COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2000 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 2001), p. 1983-1998.

World Assembly of Youth (WAY). "Security Council Members Condemn Violence Along Lebanon's Withdrawal Line" (9 January 2002). URL: http://www.worldassemblyofyouth.org/way%20info/un_news/violence%20Lebonan-21.htm

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