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Daily Star Oct 30: Families of the disappeared demand action

Zayan Khalil
Daily Star staff

Buoyed by campaigns to free detainees held by Israel, the families
of 17,000 kidnap victims missing since the civil war launched their
own lobbying Friday, demanding that the government shed light
on the fate of their loved ones.
Scores of people gathered at the Press Federation for the
campaign, entitled It’s Our Right to Know. The movement
attracted the support of several MPs ­ Metn’s Nassib Lahoud,
Beirut’s Jamil Shammas, Baalbek-Hermel Marwan Fares and
Zghorta’s Nayla Mouawad. The lawmakers joined relatives of the
missing in signing a petition calling for President Emile Lahoud’s
support.
Albert Abi Azar, president of the Friends of the Families
Committee described the campaign’s mission: “We should
apologize to mothers and wives for our delay in helping,” he
said.
“Starting today,” he said, “through peaceful actions, we will
pressure the government to grant the families of the kidnapped
their rights.
Abi Azar noted that more than 160 non-governmental
organizations, student groups and labor unions have pledged their
support.
Wadad Halawani, who heads the Families of the Wartime
Kidnapped and Missing Committee, said that the campaign hoped
to achieve three goals.
• The government should form an official fact-finding committee
to investigate the whereabouts of those who were kidnapped
during the war;
• The government should provide social care for the families of
the kidnapped;
• The government should make April 13 the “Day for the Memory
of the Kidnapped” and erect a memorial to these and other
victims of the war.
Halawani’s group was founded in 1982 to represent the families of
kidnap victims of all religious confessions. Despite their efforts to
determine the whereabouts of their missing relatives, little progress
has been made.
“Who is supposed to locate my husband?” Halawani asked. “If I
could have done this by myself by now, I would have.”
Her husband, a history teacher, was kidnapped from their home in
Ras al-Nabaa in 1982. Her two sons, Ziad and Ghassan, are active
committee members.
Though Halawani said that the members of the current
government were “the ministers least accountable for the war,”
she maintained that they were responsible for endingthe suffering
of the kidnapped and their families.
“The new administration promised to be fair, favor the weak
before the strong and return the rights to the people,” she said.
“We, the families and our loved ones, are part of this country and
the government’s responsibility.”
During the war years, three government committees were formed
to investigate the kidnappings. The results of their inquiries were
never disclosed.
Halawani said that the families of the kidnapped were entitled to
the same government support given to the families of detainees in
Israeli prisons. Detainees’ families receive financial and medical
assistance from the Council of the South, a state-run institution
established to support these families.
“Officials claim that helping us will cost them a lot. How do they
know if they haven’t even counted us?” Halawani asked.
“We’re not beggars. We are entitled to our rights,” she added.
Mouawad, whose husband was assassinated after his election as
president, agreed, saying: “I’m a war victim myself and we can’t
pretend that the war never happened.”
She stressed the importance of creating a national memorial,
demanding that a monument bearing the names of war victims be
built.
“Establishing the memorial is a must to help people remember,”
she said.
Fares invited Halawani and members of her group to attend the
next meeting of his parliamentary committee on human rights.
“I feel better already, knowing that more and more people are
ready to hear us out and support our cause,” Halawani said.
The families and their supporters will hold a sit-in outside Cabinet
headquarters in Mathaf every Wednesday at 4pm. However, next
week, there will also be a demonstration on Thursday.