Lebanon’s Economic Crisis Worsens Prisoners’ Detention Conditions
There are 6,382 prisoners in Lebanon, half of them in Roumieh prison alone. This facility holds three times more prisoners than its capacity. More than half of the prison population is awaiting trial. Prisoners usually wait for months or years before their trial, well beyond the limits established by the law.
Since 2019, Lebanon is experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis. The GDP per capita has fallen by 40%, the currency has seen its value divided by ten, and part of the population is struggling to access food. The World Bank states that Lebanon is experiencing one of the three worst global economic collapses since 1850. In August 2020, a double explosion devastated the port of Beirut and entire districts of the city, leaving 214 dead and 6,500 injured.
While the country is struggling to recover, the socio-economic crisis is also being felt in prison facilities. The quality and quantity of meals distributed by the prison administration has decreased. Inflation is reducing prisoners’ financial means and making it difficult for them to obtain food. Medicines are in short supply, doctors are rare in detention and hygiene products and clothing are lacking. Many families can no longer visit their incarcerated loved ones, not being able to afford the expense of gas. As visits are becoming less frequent, so is the supply of first necessity items.
Civil society organisations are often called to provide all kinds of services that are normally delivered by public authorities: legal aid, staff training, psychological or medical support. The COVID-19 pandemic did not spare prisoners either. Its impact on the daily life of prisoners (activities, training, outside interventions) is still tangible.
Prisoners’ difficult detention conditions
Roumieh the country’s largest detention facility – which only years ago held the highest number of convicted militants per square metre in the world – operates at nearly four times its capacity.
Inmates don’t have access to sufficient food, water, or hygiene products, which allows for the rapid spread of diseases and infections. Drugs are also allowed in by guards who are all too happy to profit from the situation. By recent estimates, at least 100 prisoners are made to share one toilet.
Last week, it was a fresh scabies outbreak that put Roumieh’s notoriously foul conditions back in the news headlines. The condition- caused by parasitic mites burrowing into and laying eggs inside human skin- is common in crowded places where skin-to-skin contact is unavoidable, and resources are lacking.
Rats were thought to be the cause of the last scabies outbreak in August, when the rodents were found in a prison water tank.
Hadi, who spent two years at the prison between 2018 and 2020, wasn’t surprised to hear of the outbreak, nor was he particularly fazed. For him, there were far worse things happening at Roumieh than mite-infested skin: he says during his internment he rarely saw sunlight; electricity was a blessing, sometimes accessible for less than two hours per day; and the food was enough for maybe one-third of the prisoners.
He’s visibly nervous, but unlike many of those who have spent time at Roumieh, he’s unafraid of the consequences of speaking publicly.
“It’s not for a human. It’s not allowed that a human be there or stay there,” Hadi says.
Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
In Lebanon, prisons and detention centers are chronically overcrowded. The World Prison Brief ranks the Lebanese prison and detention system as the 34 most overcrowded in the world. Severe overcrowding in prisons and detention centers has resulted in conditions that pose a significant threat to the health, safety, and dignity of detainees.
Only Roumieh prison out of 24 detention centers was purposefully built for detention, partly explaining why detention centers fail to meet the United Nations Minimum Standards Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules).
In this regard, the Global Rights Watch called on the Lebanese authorities to fulfil its commitments and recommendations against torture that Lebanon agreed to at the 2015 Universal Periodic Review session and prison conditions.