Beirut - The course of justice in the Beirut explosion investigation appears to have been deliberately disrupted, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement, leaving justice elusive for the victims.
The massive explosion shook the port of Beirut on 4 August 2020, killing at least 210 people, injuring thousands, displacing over 300,000 residents, and damaging nearly 60,000 houses.
On the catastrophe’s third anniversary, Euro-Med Monitor said that the official investigation into the Beirut port explosion has been disrupted for more than 18 months due to influence from some political forces within the Lebanese authorities, obstruction of judges’ work, and concerned parties’ failure to respond to subpoenas or cooperate with the investigation.
The disruption of the Beirut explosion investigation signals a further deterioration of Lebanon’s social and political stability, while also reinforcing the impunity that has long prevailed in the country. Certain political forces with which several ministers and MPs involved in the case are affiliated have purposefully obstructed the investigation by engaging in double-dealing practices.
Aside from the Beirut and Tripoli Bar Associations, all concerned bodies have refused requests to pursue employees who enjoy qualified immunity. The Minister of Interior and Municipalities refused, for example, to permit the prosecution of Abbas Ibrahim, Director General of the Lebanese General Directorate of General Security, and the country’s parliament refused to rule on requests to prosecute several MPs without first obtaining evidence on which the judicial investigator might rely. The Prime Minister also refused to rule on a request to prosecute Tony Saliba, Director General of the State Security Agency.
More than 40 recusals and lawsuits have been filed against the judicial investigator, with the majority of them aimed at discouraging him from continuing the investigation. Complicating the process even further, some of the defendants in the case—including ministers and MPs—have filed recusals against the judges in charge of deciding on the recusals against the judicial investigator. Political authorities, particularly the Minister of Finance, have obstructed the appointment of new judges to the Court of Cassation in order to delay a decision on recusal requests and completion of the investigation.
The Lebanese Parliament failed to pass laws prohibiting defendants from arbitrarily using recusal requests to avoid prosecution, as well as other law proposals aimed at eliminating qualified immunity for all officials and employees involved in the case.
With the reservation that the Court hearing the case is exceptional, effectively undermining the right to a fair trial, Euro-Med Monitor’s regional office director in Lebanon Mohammad Moghabat called political authorities’ deliberate obstruction of the investigation into the explosion “a flagrant violation of the judiciary’s independence and a continuation of the spread and strengthening of impunity promoted by some political parties over the past decades to avoid accountability”.
Moghabat added that, “The importance of keeping the investigation confidential should not interfere with judicial authorities’ adherence to transparency, which allows for informing the public about enough developments in the investigation to reassure victims and their families, and is a critical part of the path to a final judicial decision.”
The UN Human Rights Council must establish an international inquiry commission into the Beirut port explosion to ensure the investigation’s independence and fairness, the identification and accountability of potential perpetrators, and the achievement of justice for the victims, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. The organisation also called on Lebanese authorities to stop impeding the investigation and work with international bodies to expedite the process; assist judicial authorities in ensuring integrity, transparency, and fairness, leading to a fair trial; fulfil the people’s right to know the truth and receive justice; and hold any perpetrators to account.
Euro-Med Monitor urged Lebanon’s parliament to pass legislation prohibiting defendants from arbitrarily using recusal requests to delay investigations, and said Lebanese authorities must commit to reforming the public sector’s regulatory mechanisms, strengthening policies to protect the environment and public safety, and safeguarding the rights of all people in the country to prevent similar disasters from occurring in the future.