Lebanon faces public anger after abstaining from UN vote on Syria's missing persons committee
Lebanon faced public anger on Friday after it abstained from voting on a UN General Assembly resolution to form an independent body to look into the fate of thousands of people who remain missing in Syria since war erupted in 2011.
Lebanon's Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib announced ahead of the vote that it had instructed its ambassador to the UN to abstain, in line with the general consensus among Arab states.
It said that Lebanon did "not wish to politicise a humanitarian issue", adding that the committee would "not solve the crisis of the Lebanese missing persons [in Syria]".
Rights groups say that there are some 100,000 people who were forcibly disappeared since the Syrian war began in 2011, following a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests.
Some of the missing - including Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians - are believed to have been arrested or captured by the various forces and militias involved in the conflict.
"After 12 years of conflict and violence in the Syrian Arab Republic, little progress has been achieved in alleviating the suffering of families by providing answers as to the fate and whereabouts of all missing persons," read the UN resolution, which passed with 83 votes in favour, including from Qatar and Kuwait.
Eleven member states opposed it, and 62, including Lebanon and other Arab member states abstained.
During Lebanon’s own 1975-90 Civil War, rights organisations estimate that some 17,000 people were kidnapped or disappeared.
Breaking! The UN has just voted to create a new int'l body to uncover the fate and whereabouts of 100,000+ forcibly disappeared and missing persons in Syria. The result of tireless work by survivors & families of victims, who knocked on every door to get their voices heard 🙌 pic.twitter.com/EZLwrgCvPV— The Syria Campaign (@TheSyriaCmpgn) June 29, 2023
Lebanon's move to abstain from voting in favour of the resolution was slammed as "shameful" and "illogical" by local media outlets, some MPs and many on social media.
"It is a shame," Ali Abou Dehen, a former detainee in Syrian regime prisons, told French-language daily L'Orient-Le Jour.
"There is no greater disgrace than this disgrace. There is no greater betrayal than that betrayal. A minister affiliated with the Assad regime, who has detainees and missing persons in his prisons, abstains from voting to establish an independent international institution to clarify their fate!" tweeted Charbel Eid, a Lebanese Forces official.
Lebanese MP Ziad Hawat was cited by Lebanese media as saying that it was "shameful that Lebanon remains neutral on the crimes committed by the Syrian regime against hundreds of missing Lebanese".
He added that it was "even more deplorable" that the government would choose to abstain from a yes vote, especially as it "had never fulfilled its own duty" in pursuing the case of the missing Lebanese in Syria.
Former minister and member of the Progressive Socialist Party, Marwan Hamadeh, said that his party intends to submit an official interpellation over the move, adding that it was an insult to the Lebanese people.
Many on social media called for Bou Habib's resignation - despite him being a caretaker foreign minister since May 2022.
The Association of Lebanese Detainees in Syrian Prisons joined the calls following what it said was a "thoughtless and irresponsible position", according to comments carried by L'Orient-Le Jour.
"We call for the minister who failed in his duties and responsibilities to immediately resign and apologise to the families of detainees and the missing in Syria," the NGO said.
In response to public anger, Lebanon's foreign ministry released a statement on Twitter on Friday.
"Lebanon adheres to resolve this issue and the issue of the displaced Syrians through dialogue and understanding between Lebanon and Syria, and the concerned Arab and international parties," the statement said, adding the move was to avoid "undermining the work of the Arab Ministerial Committee in which Lebanon participates and [through which] seeks to solve problems" with Syria.