Lebanon: UN experts call for 'credible' investigation into assassination of Lokman Slim

Lebanese investigation has yielded 'no meaningful result' six weeks after murder of anti-Hezbollah intellectual

People gather to commemorate prominent Lebanese activist and intellectual Lokman Slim at place de la Sorbonne in the French capital Paris, on February 11, 2021. - Slim, found shot dead at age 58, was an outspoken critic of the Shiite movement Hezbollah and an advocate for preserving the memory of his country's civil war. (Photo by Ammar ABD RABBO / BALKIS PRESS / AFP) / MAGS OUT === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO /BALKIS PRESS/ AMMAR ABD RABBO" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===

Three UN human rights experts on Monday called for the Lebanese government to ensure a “credible and effective investigation” into the assassination of prominent intellectual and Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim.

They criticised the local judiciary’s lack of “meaningful result” over the six weeks since Slim's death.

“The government should urgently implement measures to guarantee the independence and the impartiality of the investigation and ensure that those responsible are identified and held accountable,” the UN special rapporteurs said.

The three experts are: Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Diego Garcia-Sayan, special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

UN special rapporteurs are high-profile, independent experts who can choose to investigate situations submitted to them on an individual basis or through NGOs.

Their findings are not a substitute for accountability, but they shine light on human rights breaches, said Habib Nassar, a Lebanese lawyer and director at human rights organisation Impunity Watch, in the Netherlands.

"At this stage, it's essential to bring international attention to Slim's horrific assassination and pressure the Lebanese authorities," Mr Nassar told The National.

Slim, a prominent writer, researcher, and filmmaker, had received death threats for years, most of them linked to his harsh criticism of the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Late in 2019, he wrote in an open letter that the group and its local ally, the Amal Movement, should be held responsible if he died.

The body of Slim, 59, was found in a rental car with six bullet wounds in the back of his head and in his back, near the southern Lebanese town of Saida.

The area is “de facto controlled by Hezbollah”, the three UN special rapporteurs wrote.

A Lebanese judicial source told The National  this week that 20 people had been summoned for questioning so far but no arrest warrants had been issued.

This photo provided by Monika Borgmann shows her husband, Lokman Slim, a well-known Lebanese publisher and vocal critic of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim group, at his desk in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, Lebanon, Jan. 5, 2017. Slim was killed Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Borgmann said she is discussing with lawyers and friends how to push for an international investigation into her husband's murder. (Lokman Slim family via AP)

Slim’s widow Monika Borgmann, who holds German and Lebanese nationality, called the UN statement a “small victory”.

"This is a first step," Ms Borgmann said.

She has repeatedly said she does not trust the Lebanese police to solve her husband’s murder and has called for an international investigation.

The Lebanese judiciary, which is widely considered to be corrupt, has a track record of not solving political murders.

The three UN special rapporteurs on Monday called on the Lebanese government to establish an “independent and impartial commission to investigate the failure of past investigations into the killings of human rights defenders, activists and politicians".

The government should also consider requesting international assistance to investigate Slim’s killing and appoint international experts to advise and support inquests into politically motivated murders, they said.

Human Rights Watch Lebanon researcher Aya Majzoub called these recommendations “innovative”.

Ms Majzoub wrote on Twitter on Monday evening that they had the “potential to help combat the prevailing culture of impunity in Lebanon".

The German ambassador to Lebanon, Andreas Kindl, offered his country's assistance in investigating Slim’s death to President Michel Aoun and Imad Othman, who leads the Lebanese Internal Security Forces.

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