Dead...but Where Are the Corpses?
In 1998, the nightclub BO18 moved to its new, permanent location in Karantina, an area that witnessed one of the most infamous massacres of “the two-year war” on the January 18th 1976. Information and testimony alleging that a large number of victims of the massacre are buried in a mass grave in the area supports the assertion that the perpetrators quickly disposed of the bodies of their victims. BO18 boasts the signature of architect Bernard Khoury, which has become the image of the implications of Karantina and its bloody history.

 More than twenty years after the civil war ended, it is more apparent than ever that Lebanese authorities have failed to take responsibility for the mass graves created during the war, including plots that had been officially recognized. The following is a case in point.

British journalist Alec Collett was abducted in 1985 at the height of Lebanon’s civil war. Similarly, possibly simultaneously, French academic researcher Michel Seurat was kidnapped under similar conditions. Detailed investigations well after the war ended led to Aita al-Foukhar in West Bekaa, and eventually to Collett’s remains. In contrast, those of Seurat were purportedly discovered in the southern suburbs quite randomly by members of a construction crew working along the road to Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport.

The discovery of these two sets of remains at a site once occupied by militia organizations, underscores the possibility that it could also contain the remains of other victims. The magnitude of that observation, however, is compounded by the fact that many such impromptu burial grounds, known and yet to be rediscovered, exist throughout the country.

Commenting on the discovery of Mr. Collett’s remains, Amnesty International wrote:

The discovery of Alec Collett's remains shows the inadequacy of steps taken by the Lebanese authorities to reveal the fate and whereabouts of Lebanese, Palestinian and other nationals, abducted by armed militias or subjected to enforced disappearance by Lebanese, Syrian and Israeli forces.”

Doubtlessly, that discovery was a great relief to Mr. Collett’s family, who waited some 25 years to learn his fate. But while the family now has a more precise address for their loved one—albeit inscribed on a gravestone—thousands of Lebanese families are still waiting for similar closure. The situation thus highlights the reluctance of Lebanese authorities to help determine the fate of thousands abducted during the civil war. For instance, DNA tests proved that the remains were indeed those of Mr. Collett, which were recovered by a British search team operating with the government’s consent. But that team also discovered remains commingled with those of Mr. Collett. Unfortunately, DNA testing did not succeed in identifying that individual, who was subsequently reburied. The State’s inability to identify those remains demonstrates the lack of a national DNA database—populated with samples taken from family members of the many Lebanese (and others) abducted during the war—that could facilitate the identification process.

Beyond the identification process alone, the Lebanese authorities must take responsibility for protecting known grave sites from intruders. Moreover, it must commence immediately a determined, nationwide investigation into wartime mass graves and search actively for additional human remains. If (when) others are found, all means should be used to identify these unfortunates and ensure they are reunited with their families for proper burial. Such action would finally end the suffering of at least some of the families of the missing who, like Mr. Collett’s family, have been waiting for decades to learn something about their loved ones. These families deserve to be told the truth.

Briton Alec Collett’s remains were found—in Lebanon—as were those of Frenchman Michel Sora. Both were identified and welcomed home to native soil by loving families. These examples of national determination and resolve should demonstrate to the Lebanese authorities that the “files” on the war’s missing cannot be closed arbitrarily. If another example is needed to convince the State of this imperative, then no one should forget that Israel recruited the former head of a West Bekka municipality, Ziad Al-Homsi, to help recover the bodies of IDF soldiers killed in Lebanon in 1982. Little more can be added to this enduring national misery and embarrassment—other than possibly a dose of “self-flagellation.”

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Like the others, this section of Memory at Work is divided into several subsections. This arrangement helps organize the facts, state the positions involved and introduce additional reading about the subject. In this section, however, the most important addition is a map of Lebanon on which we identify the locations of confirmed mass grave sites. Notably, most of these were found entirely by accident...

The organization, its activities and its vision for Lebanon
Acknowledging Lebanon’s past demands that historical evidence and artifacts be collected, protected and publicized. Using a variety of tools, UMAM D&R examines Lebanon’s past to contribute  to the ongoing debate about its collective memory.