When I started my blog my goal was to write about the interesting cases I handled as a human right lawyer. However, as soon as I started remembering the sad stories of my clients, I realized that it was too emotional for me to live again the painful moments I shared with the victims of injustice. So I decided to keep these memories buried and stick to the La Vie En Rose kind of blog.
Yesterday my friend Charlie asked me why I don’t write about the cases I handled… I guess Charlie was tired of reading the insignificant Real Housewives post? lol lol. Anyway, this is for you Charlie:) today, and only today, I will break my rule and write about a story very dear to my heart: the case of Abdulrahman, the Sudanese refugee, victim of torture in the Lebanese prison.
It was in year 2001, the UNHCR, the United Nation agency for refugee, was operating from an old building located in Beirut. Many Sudanese would gather everyday in long queues in front of the yellow UNHCR building, waiting to apply for the refugee status. The refugee status, if approved by the UNHCR, allows people who are fleeing their countries, to apply for a visa and asylum in the US, Canada or European countries. It was crucial for Sudanese to obtain this piece of documents from the UN, to be able to have a new life away from massacres and famine prevalent in their country. The problem was that not all applicants were able to prove that it was very dangerous for them to go back to Sudan, and therefore very few were approved by the UNHCR.
AbdulRahman was one of the Sudanese who flee his country. After crossing the Egyptian borders then the Jordanian and Syrian borders, he finally made it to Lebanon. AbdulRahman was determined to apply for the refugee status at the UNHCR in Beirut. So he used to stand in line everyday for hours under the sun, with hundred of other refugees, waiting for his turn to see a UNHCR representative who might approve or deny his application.
The UNHCR at the time was located right behind the head quarters of the Internal General Security Forces. Unfortunately for the refugees, it was so easy for the law enforcement people to raid the place and arrest the Sudanese who didn’t have papers, and most of them didn’t.
One morning, as I was getting ready to leave my office to go to court I received a phone call from Dominique a lawyer friend who was working as the UNHCR lawyer at the time.
He said: ”Mirella can I ask you for a favor? Today the law enforcement people arrested 10 of the Sudanese who were lining up for their application, and one of them resisted the arrest and was beaten very badly! His blood is all over the street. As a UN official I cannot check on him in the prison, but you, I know you can.”
I said: “ok, no problem just give me his name.” Dominique said: “his name is AbdulRahman, and… too bad I was going to approve his refugee status, but he needs to appear before us…”
That day I went to court and got a permission to see the prisoner AdbulRahman. My request was approved by the court but refused at the prison. The guard explained to me that AbdulRahman is out of control and it is very dangerous to get near him.
I didn’t buy his story and came back the second day, and the day after and still couldn’t see AbulRahman. I knew that AbdulRahman was being tortured.
So I decided to get in touch with my friends at Amnesty International in London. For readers who are not familiar with the work of Amnesty International, it is in Organization specialized in denouncing abuse cases in prisons.
I was so lucky to learn that one of Amnesty’s researchers was visiting Lebanon that week. So I went with him to prison and asked to see AbulRahman, I knew that the researcher’s presence was going to have a big impact on the authorities because they didn’t like the bad publicity of Amnesty International.
But instead of letting us see AbdulRhaman they told us that he was in the hospital, being treated for broken bones.
When I visited AbdulRahman in the hospital it was a big shock for me, for many reason. AbdulRahman was 7ft tall and his legs were hanging outside the bed. He wasn’t covered by any sheet instead he had a big diaper covering a big part of his body. He didn’t look in pain because he was heavily sedated. He wasn’t sure what we were doing in his room and if he should trust us or not.
After we introduce ourselves, me as a lawyer and my friend as Amnesty International’s representative, he start telling us his story, while my friends from Amnesty was taking note.
He start talking in Arabic with very heavy accent: “as you know I was waiting in line when the police came, they asked me for my papers and when I said I didn’t have them they asked me to go to prison with them, I refused because I didn’t want to lose my spot in line. They started beating me and they took me to prison. In prison they beat me more, saying that it will teach me a lesson to resist an arrest. They broke my legs, and when I couldn’t stand up they kept beating me on my back and broke my spine. I laid on the prison floor in the same position for 5 days, I was screaming from pain, they thought I was bluffing, I was screaming so hard they were scared to get near me. So I didn’t move from my spot and didn’t eat or went to the toilet for 5 days because I couldn’t stand up. I had feces all over me and bedsores on the lower part of my back. If it wasn’t for you they were planning on keeping me there for God knows till when…probably till I die… but when you asked about me this is when they decided to move me to the hospital. You are all I have, please don’t leave me.”
That day Amnesty International released an urgent action on their website denouncing the horrible story of AbdulRahman.
I went looking for a charity that will be willing to pay AbdulRahman hospital’s bills and medicines.
And for a week I visited him daily in the hospital. He used to tell me about his dream to get the refugee status and move to Canada were he would have a better life. He also told me that he was previously tortured in the Sudanese prison because he was opposing the government politics, and it is very dangerous for him to go back. I also learned that he has two daughters and a wife and they didn’t hear from him since he was arrested.
One morning I went to the hospital to visit him, after I finished a long day at the office. But that day AbdulRahman wasn’t in the hospital anymore. When I saw his bed empty I was happy to see that finally he recovered and now he might go back to UNHCR to get his status, but it wasn’t the case.
The nurse told me that special forces came early in the morning, around 5:00 a.m. and escorted him to the airport from where he was deported and sent back to Sudan.
I still think about AbdulRahman, and what might have happened to him…
Now that I am going to Sudan I wonder if I will see him again, if he is still alive. Who knows.
I recently found on the web an Amnesty case about Sudanese refugees in Egypt, very similar to the story of the Sudanese refugees in Lebanon, and I was feeling, once more, so helpless and frustrated for not being able to make a difference, even in my 10 years of human right activism… The world will not change. So I stick to watching the housewives for now….