Ottawa 'callous' for deporting ex-soldiers South Lebanese Army veterans fear torture by Hezbollah
An American Jewish organization is accusing the federal government of "callous
indifference" over the fate of seven former members of Israel's proxy
army in Lebanon who have been ordered out of Canada as soon as possible.
The men have been denied refugee status here but, as veterans of the
Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army (SLA), would face certain
imprisonment, torture or even death if deported back to Lebanon, they
and their defenders claim.
The Lebanese expatriates point to the case of a Canadian citizen who
used to belong to the SLA and says he was jailed and tortured after
visiting Lebanon this summer. He has since been freed and is back in
Canada. But another SLA veteran deported to Lebanon last month is still
in prison and has been tortured, according to a letter from his lawyer
there and representatives of the American Jewish Committee.
"I ask the [Immigration] Minister if, in Canada, we have humanity for
people like us?" said Joseph Semman, another SLA veteran who came to
Canada with his wife, Nagham Rizk, in 2000 and now faces removal.
"He must leave us here. He must make a new life for us. We come here
to work, to make a new life, to make a good life for me and my kids. We
don't come to Canada to fight or to do something wrong."
The men are being denied refugee status on the basis of being members
of a group that committed crimes against humanity. But they argue that
they were small cogs in the organization and had nothing to do with any
human rights violations, which watchdogs reported on both sides of the
conflict in Israeli-occupied south Lebanon.
Mr. Semman, who has had two children in Canada, said he worked in an
army body shop.
Supporters say the men especially risk retribution from Hezbollah,
the fundamentalist Islamic group that has been banned as a terrorist
organization by Canada and now all but controls southern Lebanon.
Canada may also be violating international law by sending them back
to a country where they could face torture, said Yehudit Barsky of the
American Jewish Committee.
A background paper prepared by a member of the committee accused
Canada of "callous indifference" in the case.
Two of the seven, all of whom live in Montreal, are to be deported to
the United States, since they came through there on their way to Canada,
but the rest are slated to be sent to Lebanon. Hugette Shouldice, a
spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, said the men have
exhausted all avenues of appeal in a "very generous" refugee system and
have been deemed inadmissible. If someone was part of a group considered
to have committed war crimes, it doesn't matter whether the person held
a senior position in the organization or not, she said. "Organizations
cannot function, and commit those kinds of atrocities, without everyone
playing a part. You don't have to be the ones making the decisions, you
don't have to be the one pulling the trigger. If you are driving
everyone there, you are complicit."
Department officials and judges have also concluded they do not face
undue risk if returned, she said.
The South Lebanese Army was created in the 1980s and made up mainly of
Maronite Christians, as well as a smaller number of Shia Muslims. With
backing from the Israeli government, it helped battle Hezbollah
members determined to attack Israeli military positions and
settlements across the border.
Most of the 6,000 SLA members fled when the Israeli Defence Force
pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, although many later returned and were
jailed as "collaborators."
Watchdogs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch
reported abuses by the SLA when they held sway in the region,
including torture at the army's Al-Khiam prison. The army veterans
maintain that those reports are exaggerated. But even the U.S. State
Department reported in 1999 that the SLA "arbitrarily arrested,
mistreated and detained persons."
Human rights monitors have also raised red flags about SLA veterans
who have returned to Lebanon. There are persistent reports of alleged
collaborators being tortured by such methods as beating and hanging by