Lebanon: Independent investigation into checkpoint killings needed

A prominent Lebanese cleric opposed to the Syrian government and another man travelling with him have been shot dead at a checkpoint in northern Lebanon, prompting Amnesty International to urge the Lebanese authorities to launch an independent investigation rather than one carried out by the army or other security forces.Sheikh Ahmad Abdel-Wahed, a critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, and Muhammad Hussein Merheb were shot dead on Sunday near a checkpoint in Kouaikhat in the northern Akkar region. Three other people are reported to have been killed in clashes between rival groups in the wake of the checkpoint shootings. “It’s vital the probe into these killings is carried out by an independent body. It must be thorough, prompt and impartial as required under international human rights standards and anyone found responsible for abuses must be brought to justice without resort to the death penalty,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.In a statement issued yesterday, the leadership of the Lebanese Army expressed deep regret for the two deaths at the checkpoint and said it would “immediately form an investigative committee comprised of senior officers and military police under the relevant judiciary”. Amnesty International has written previously to the Lebanese authorities highlighting the requirements for independent and impartial investigations into allegations of human rights violations and other abuses. In 2007 and 2008 the organization wrote to the then Prime Minster Fouad Siniora as well as the Minister of Defence expressing concern that alleged violations committed by the Lebanese Army in the context of the Nahr al-Bared events of 2007 – subject to internal army investigations – were not independently and impartially investigated.Politically fragile Lebanon has recently witnessed increasing tension and violence, exacerbated by the ongoing crisis in neighbouring Syria.