And They Never Came Back...
... ولم يعودوا
2008 - 2022

Out of the What is to be Done? Lebanon's War-Loaded Memory initiative a new project was spawned, one with a more refined focus. The "Missing" initiative encompassed a research campaign launched by UMAM D&R in 2007 to bring comprehensive methodologies and empirical data to Lebanese society so that the country's strained history might be better understood, hereby allowing for the country to move closer towards a more lasting and concrete peace than that provided by the Ta'if Agreement. Initially intended to be a relatively small undertaking, the "Missing" initiative evolved into a multi-dimensional collaborative project. 

While there are many avenues down which one could go with this goal in mind, UMAM D&R opted to focus its resources on an aspect of the war that was often overlooked and one that UMAM D&R has always considered essential in settling: the fate of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of Lebanese who disappeared during the civil war and never came back. Amidst the cycle of violence, political gamesmanship, sectarian arrangements, and regional developments, the Lebanese government devoted little attention to the matter.

There have been several major attempts to resolve the issue of the missing, although each amounts to little more than a half-measure: an amnesty law passed by parliament on August 25, 1991; Law 434 of May 25, 1995, which streamlined the procedures used to declare a missing individual as dead; the report issued by the Committee to Investigate the Fate of all the Missing and the Kidnapped on January 21, 2000, which established that anyone absent for four or more years, without having their bodies found, falls into the legal status of deceased (see video below); and official mention of the "missing" in a government statement from July 2005 and the statement's placing of the "missing" within a framework of political concessions. Each of these attempts to settle the fate of the missing made hardly any progress and largely avoided some of the more challenging and uncomfortable aspects of the issue.

UMAM D&R's initial information collection efforts resulted in the creation of a database about Lebanon's missing citizens. The database quickly became a useful resource, especially with additional data shared from the Committee of the Relatives of the Kidnapped and Missing in Lebanon, Support of the Lebanese in Detention and Exile, and the Committee of the Families of Lebanese Detainees in Syria, each of whom was contacted by UMAM D&R in hopes that they would get involved with the project.

After sharing their preliminary findings and completed work at the workshop And They Never Came Back... Enforced Disappearances in Lebanon (June 2008), as part of the "What is to be Done? Lebanon's War-Loaded Memory" initiative, UMAM D&R, more convinced than ever of the work it was undertaking, expanded the project and dispatched 10 researchers across the country to collect more comprehensive information about those who went missing during the war. The team used a questionnaire as their primary tool and visited more than 120 villages around the country, including the Palestinian camps, which is where many of the disappearances occurred during the war. Researchers talked to families and heard their personal tales of tragedy and hardship.

The campaign around the country resulted in a database with over 1,250 names, and attached files and pictures of more than half of those in the new system. The database was also one of the first consolidated and corroborated information repositories to be assembled that relates specifically to missing persons in Lebanon. In addition to the information gleaned from the questionnaires, UMAM D&R teamed up with representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), who participated in the workshop The Story Beneath Us... Forensics and Mass Graves (July 2008), as part of the "What is to be Done? Lebanon's War-Loaded Memory" initiative, which resulted in UMAM D&R incorporating the ICRC's ante-mortem/post-mortem (AM/PM) database into the "Missing" initiative for several years. Following UMAM D&R's lead, other civil society organizations and even some official entities requested copies of the AM/PM database.

As the database for the missing filled with information and pictures, UMAM D&R decided to add a more visceral – and perhaps meditative – facet to the initiative with a photo exhibition. The numerous images brought the names to life and allowed visitors to look at the issue through a different angle. The exhibition contained the pictures of hundreds of men and women and increased in size as it traveled around Lebanon between 2008 and 2010.

Since then, UMAM D&R has continued to work on this topic. The latest effort was the publication Law 105 (Law on Missing and Forcibly Disappeared Persons). The research results of the project as well as more information can be found at Memory at Work.