Ceremony of Franco-German Human Rights Prize
Speech by Monika Borgmann
January 21, 2022


Your Excellency Mrs. Anne Grillo, Ambassador of France

Your Excellency Mrs. Katharina Lack, Deputy Head of Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany

Dear guests, ladies and gentlemen, 

I am more than honored; I am overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and thankful to receive this human rights prize for Lokman Slim and for the work he and I did through our organization UMAM Documentation and Research.

From the very beginning, fighting the culture of impunity has been at the center of our work, Lokman and I. Today, with UMAM, I am continuing this same fight. And if I am doing it without Lokman, I am doing it for Lokman. 

The task became of course much harder with the loss of Lokman. Still, his experience, his knowledge, his spirit, all what he was remains forever at the center of our work. 

Lokman was not only my husband and my partner, but also, he was a “Vorbild,” a guide and a model for all those who share in the same calling to examine the past and to struggle in a path towards a more just future.

My journey with Lokman started more than twenty years ago, in 2001, when I came to Beirut to work on a film project entitled Massaker. Massaker focused on the recollection of the massacres perpetrated in the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila back in 1982, from the perspective of the perpetrators. It dealt with questions around memories, collective violence, and the aftermath of civil war. 

Working on the film led us, Lokman and I, to found UMAM Documentation and Research. And few years later, our work through UMAM led us to co-direct our second film Tadmor that gives voice to a group of former Lebanese detainees who were incarcerated in the infamous Syrian prison in Palmyra. 

UMAM is best described as an organization that is dealing with Lebanon’s violent past and collective memory. Over the years, we have been working on the political, cultural, and social history of Lebanon. We have implemented projects regarding enforced disappearance, transitional justice, refugees and displacement, prisons and carceral systems, torture, and trauma. Our work in exploring and unpacking these issues has brought us to a wider regional approach, and currently our work focuses overall the whole MENA region, mainly through the MENA Prison Forum, a project that looks at carceral dynamics within and throughout countries in the region. 

The core of our work is in our title: documentation. We have been guided and always followed evidence and materials, and this is what has led us to compile our archives, an ever-growing collection of different versants of Lebanese heteroclite collective memory. We always refer to our archive as being a “citizen archive,” meaning that it has an open access for everybody, out of our conviction that archives can be an invaluable tool for dealing with the past, to better understand the present, and to see a path for a better future.

Your Excellencies, I am a citizen of two countries:

I am a born German, and this is a French-German prize. As a German, allow me to reflect and to say some words about my own past and this partnership. Reconciliation between France and Germany has been made possible after World War II and the Holocaust. But I believe that this was only possible because of the Nurnberg Tribunal, and other trials that followed. I firmly believe that reconciliation between these two great nations has been possible only because justice has been done. I belong to a generation of Germans who lived first-hand how dealing with the past is a necessity to build a better present and a better future. This was a value that Lokman and I shared, and it has always been the mission of UMAM Documentation & Research.

I am also a Lebanese, a citizenship I was granted more recently, but one that plants my feet unwaveringly in Beirut. Because justice has never been rendered in Lebanon, because there has never been accountability neither for the past nor for the present, we are today facing a deadlock, an inability to move into a present or a future. Without justice, Lebanon will never be able to move forward into peace. 

Lokman and I were documenting, analyzing, and commenting on the injustice of yesterday and today.

Then, on February 3 of 2021, Lokman was brutally executed and his voice was silenced.

Today I stand here to say out loud: 

Much more than anything else, we need justice.

We need justice for all victims of political assassinations.

We need justice for the victims of the 2020 Beirut port explosion.

We need justice for the victims of the Lebanese Civil War, including the families of the disappeared. 

We need justice for Lebanon.

We need justice for Syria, for Iraq, and for many other countries in this region who have suffered and who are still suffering, without any recourse for justice or accountability.

But we also need justice for Lokman. 

Your excellencies, 

Lokman was kidnapped in South Lebanon, in the UNIFIL area, and more specifically in the French zone, less than one kilometer door to door from the entrance of main military barracks of the French battalion in Srifa. Today, while standing on a French soil, I call upon France to contribute providing us with the information needed to identify Lokman’s murderers and to bring them to justice. I am very much aware of what I am asking for, but I am also sure that France who played a leading role in the creation of the state of law in modern Lebanon, will have at heart to see the end of the era of impunity in this country.

Until today, I still have no words to express my sorrow and my anger, and I stand here in remembrance and rage.

The work of UMAM will continue through our archives and projects to pursue Lokman’s legacy and to keep his memory alive. Moreover, and with the newly established Lokman Slim Foundation, we will also tackle the issue of the political assassinations, in Lebanon but also in the MENA region. This prize means a very strong support in these fights. 

Your Excellencies, thank you for this honor to Lokman, to the work of UMAM, and to working together for a future with justice and accountability. 

Monika Borgmann