Since signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) last February, the partnership between the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) and the Faculty of Law and Political Sceince (FLPS) at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) continues to bear fruit in bringing humanitarian issues to light, the most recent of which being the joint research report titled “Vulnerability in Lebanon: Mental Health Is at Stake (2022).” This study highlights the increasing decline in mental health in Lebanon, highly correlated with the collapse of the Lebanese economy. Regarding the topic of psychological well-being, the FLPS and CLDH recently organized a joint forum titled “The Scars You Cannot See: Torture and its Impact on Mental Health,” detailing the trauma of prisoners in Lebanon, the torture they undergo in detention, and their hidden wounds. Faculty present included Dr. Dany Samaha, Dean of the FLPS, Dr. Eugene Sensenig, FLPS Professor, and Rouba El Helou, FLPS Instructor.
Based on a shared commitment to both scientific research, social activism, community service, the Faculty and CLDH’s collaboration was carried out in cooperation with the voluntary Working Group on Torture Prevention in Lebanon, comprising Association for Justice and Mercy (AJEM), ALEF Liban, Caritas, CLDH, Proud Lebanon, in addition to the Restart Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture.
Speaking to a full house in NDU’s Friend’s Hall, Dr. Samaha welcomed the audience constituting members of the judiciary and penal system, the Lebanese security services, various mental health provider organizations, faith-based activists, foreign embassies, the Red Cross, the media, and the academic community. The Dean’s address highlighted the value of this cooperation, its results having been able to strengthen the application of rule of law towards more accountability and respect for human dignity, calling for a consistency in the legal system to implement the law with integrity, justice, and mercy.
The joint study report combined a focus on science, community service, and the role of art in dealing with trauma. Josiane Noun, the Program Manager at CLDH, gave an in-depth presentation of the study and explained the main objectives in working with victims of violence in their three centers assisting with rehabilitation. Noun also explained the interdisciplinary methodology of the study and how victims are supported on many levels through the process of reintegration into society.
Dr. Sensenig underlined the unique link between the hands-on research activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and scholarly, university-based studies, one such example being the Faculty and CLDH’s MoU. FLPS students themselves are also working towards expanding this body of knowledge with their own research on the topic. Dr. Sensenig explained that this research and advocacy cooperation is a mutually beneficial situation, an uncommon occurrence both locally and abroad, its aim being to serve Lebanon and activate a sense of citizenship and the rule of law. The Professor’s conclusion: “It is important for universities and NGOs to work locally, regionally, and internationally and thus promote recovery for Lebanon and our region by combining forces on the research front.”
An interview followed the opening ceremony, dealing with the relationship between arts, healing, and rehabilitation. Moderated by El Helou, the artist and torture survivor, Ziad Itani, relayed his experience as a social activist, actor, and director in the field of performance arts in Lebanon. Itani considered his recovery in a post-prison life, stating that, “The day I received my freedom I was able to help two people whom I met during my detention. One was an online hacker and the second was an old man whom I used to assist in his daily routine as an inmate.” He described his arrest, torture, and the role of the arts in helping him, his family, and friends deal with the ongoing and non-linear process of overcoming his trauma.
The judiciary and health care sector both have an imperative in dealing with the impact of torture on surviors, the effects of marginalization on vulnerable groups, as well as the suffering their families. For instance, Chief Judge Hamza Charafeddine spoke about his career in the security forces and judiciary and his struggle to stop systemic torture and the culture of impunity. He described the difficulties which detainees and prisoners undergo, showcaseing pictures documenting systemic torture in Lebanon. Other examples include the work of Hiba Khalifeh, Founder and Executive Director of Nafsaniyoun, an organization dedicated to supporting survivors throughout their healing process. The human rights lawyer, Mohammed Sablouh, likewise contributed his participation in the plight for prioritizing human dignity, citing his work on documenting and reporting cases of violations against prisoners and the marginalized.
Fadel Fakih, Executive Director at CLDH, spoke on behalf of the President of TABYEEN International Center, rounding up the event by illustrating the various crises in the country and where they intersect, their enduring nature creating a collective insecurity and traumatic experience, whether in circumstances of imprisonment, marginalization, or others.
The weight of such a forum and the activism of the FLPS in shedding light on the matter of imprisonment and trauma are exceptional and commendable efforts in increasing the attention on human rights violations in our country, yielding tangible results through such cooperative endeavors, necessary towards systemic change, prioritizing the inherent dignity of the imprisoned (cf. Matt 25:36), and cultivating a culture of mercy.