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Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon: an interview with Wissam Al-Saliby, one of Geneva Call’s trainer

Wissam Al-Saliby regularly conducts training courses on humanitarian norms for commanders and fighters from armed groups in Syria and Lebanon. In March 2015, he led a training session on policing and human rights for 15 members of the security forces in Ain El Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon. This camp hosts around 80,000 refugees from Palestine but also Palestinians from Syria.

Who were the fighters that you recently trained in Lebanon?

The last training session I gave in Ain El Hilweh camp, in Lebanon, was in March 2015. It was given to the newly formed Palestinian Joint Security Forces, composed of multiple Palestinian factions, ranging from secular to Islamic factions.

Who are these factions, and how do they work with the Lebanese authorities?

The Palestinian Joint Security Forces are made up of 10 armed groups including Fatah, Usbat al-Ansar, Ansar Allah and the Alliance of Palestinian Forces. They are in charge of keeping the camp security situation under control. However, recent armed clashes have hampered the efficiency of this cooperation.

The forces work closely with the Lebanese authorities, namely the Lebanese army, which guard the entrances to Ain El Hilweh camp.

What was the training topic?

Considering that these security forces have a law enforcement role within the camp, in coordination with the Lebanese authorities outside of the camp, the training was on Policing and Human Rights. Specifically, it was on the use of force and firearms in human rights law. We discussed issues such as “when do human rights law allow the use of force and firearms” or “what constitutes necessity, and what constitutes excessive use of force.” I made sure to give many real world examples and case studies.

What was the main challenge?

The main challenge was that, with the lack of resources in the camp, the Joint Security Forces did not have access to adequate non-lethal weapons that could be used instead of firearms. This is problematic as, in the training, I was telling them that they needed to resort to all feasible options prior to using firearms.

How do members of the security forces react to your training sessions?

Still, the training on the international framework was much needed and made perfect sense to the participants, all of whom are experienced fighters. Most participants interacted positively with the training and the case studies and examples. Some gave examples of their own mishaps when it came to policing and manning checkpoints in the camp.

How can this training modify their behavior?

This training can modify their behavior by emphasizing a practice that already exists—resorting to dialog and communal diplomacy. The first option is always to communicate with the person accused of a crime and with his family, to invite him to surrender, and to avoid resorting to the use of force. The training gave them a more structured framework for the police function of conflict resolution, while introducing the new notion of absolute necessity for the use of firearms.

What are their main questions and concerns?

One of their concerns was the spread of drugs in the camp. Drugs and the prevalence of weapons lead to incidents. They asked questions about how to deal with such cases. I didn’t really have an answer to their question. They have to maintain a delicate balance between holding a dialog with the offender and managing the threat that he or she represents. In densely populated camps such as Ain El Hilweh, any bullet fired is a threat to life!



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