Geneva – The continued attempts – especially those carried out by members of parliament and former ministers – to obstruct the investigations into the Beirut port explosion, which killed more than 220 Lebanese and displaced about 300,000 others, are of deep concern and astonishment, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a statement.
The attempts began from the moment former judicial investigator, Judge Fadi Sawan, began prosecuting former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, former Minister Youssef Fenianos, and MPs Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zuaiter, and Nihad al-Machnouk.
Zuaiter and Khalil succeeded in transferring the case to Judge Tariq Bitar. However, the MPs' attempts to obstruct the investigations continued. Most notably, on September 24, al-Machnouk, Khalil, and Zuaiter submitted a request challenging the judge before the Civil Appeals Court in Beirut and succeeded in temporarily stopping him from proceeding with the investigations. On October 4, the Court of Appeal issued a decision, dismissing their requests for lack of jurisdiction.
After that, Khalil and Zuaiter submitted a request challenging the judge before the Civil Court of Cassation, the fifth chamber, headed by Judge Janet Hanna, but they did not succeed in disrupting the investigations because the Court of Cassation ruled on October 11 that the request was formally rejected for lack of jurisdiction.
Again, for the third time, Khalil and Zuaiter submitted a request challenging the judge before the Civil Court of Cassation, the first chamber, headed by Judge Naji Eid. This time, they succeeded in halting the investigations temporarily after the court issued a decision to notify Bitar of the request, who automatically stopped the investigation process, as provided by law.
The case is now in the hands of the Civil Court of Cassation, and it is unknown whether it will reject the request, as in the previous cases, or impose new, different procedures.
Since assuming his duties, the investigations conducted by the judicial investigator, Judge Tariq Bitar, have faced many obstacles that aimed at preventing the appearance of former ministers, MPs, and general directors before the judicial investigator to protect them.
This includes not giving permission to pursue the Director-General of Public Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, and the Director-General of State Security, Major General Tony Saliba. The Discriminatory Public Prosecution refrained from performing its primary role by prosecuting them, while the current Minister of Interior, former judge Bassam al-Mawlawi ordered the security forces not to carry out the judicial investigator’s summons of the defendants.
Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Media Officer, Nour Alwan, said, “It is shameful that influential parties continue to try to obstruct the course of justice in the tragic incident of the Beirut Port explosion. The work of the judicial investigator should be facilitated, and he should be enabled to perform his duties under appropriate conditions, including harnessing all available capabilities to reach the truth, revealing the full circumstances of the case, identifying those responsible, and holding them accountable.”
Olwan added that the responsibility of the Lebanese constitutional authorities, especially the judiciary, is to protect the judicial investigator and the independence of his work, in compliance with the provisions of Article 20 of the Lebanese Constitution, which states: “[…] Judges are independent in exercising their functions. Decisions and judgments are issued by all the courts and are executed in the name of the Lebanese People.”
The basic principles on the independence of the judiciary adopted by the Seventh United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in 1985 should be respected, which emphasized: “1) The independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State and enshrined in the Constitution or the law of the country. It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary; 2) The judiciary shall decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats, or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.”
The Lebanese constitutional authorities should preserve the independence of the judiciary, immunize it from interference from any party, and provide full protection for the investigation process, especially with the current judicial investigator receiving direct and indirect threats due to his activity in the case.