18 months later, families of Beirut blast victims decry lack of justice

18 months later, families of Beirut blast victims decry lack of justice
Family members of victims of the Beirut port explosion called for accountability before the port was rebuilt, accusing politicians of valuing "stones" over lives.
3 min read
04 February, 2022
Despite obstacles, family members of the victims said that they maintained hope that justice could be achieved

Around a dozen family members of the victims of the Beirut port explosion protested outside the port on Friday to decry the lack of progress over the blast investigation, 18 months after the deadly incident.

On August 4, 2020, over 2,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded, killing over 218 people and wounding 7,000. Despite officials’ promises to charge those responsible “within days,” no official has been arrested in connection with the blast a year and a half later.

 Judge Tarek Bitar, the judge in charge of the investigation, has issued summons for relevant officials, including Lebanon’s security chief and former ministers.

Officials however, have refused to cooperate with the investigation, and police have refused to implement arrest warrants for non-cooperative witnesses, such as former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil.

A spokesperson for the victim’s family condemned the rush to rebuild the port, accusing officials of “valuing stones over lives,” saying that while they were not against reconstruction, accountability must come first.

The spokesperson also said that officials should not exploit their cause for political gains.

“There are obstructions to the investigation, which shouldn’t happen in the face of such a huge crime such as this one,” Kayan Tlaiss, a participant in the protest whose brother Mohammed Tlaiss was killed in the explosion, told The New Arab.

“We will stay [focused] and we will maintain hope that we will reach justice, because it’s our right to demand our rights. We’re not demanding the impossible.” Tlaiss said.

Rights’ groups have slammed the Lebanese government for obstructing the port investigation and have called for an impartial, international probe into the matter.

“The reason for the lack of progress on the investigation is the refusal of representatives to abide by the judicial path, legal maneuvers and the use of parliamentary immunity sometimes … and political pressure at other times to interrupt the investigation,” Wadih al-Asmar, President of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, told The New Arab.

“In Lebanon, there is no accountability because of a lack of judicial independence and judges having links to political interests,” al-Asmar added.

Lebanon’s most powerful Shia political groups, Hezbollah and the Amal movement, have accused Judge Bitar of being politically motivated and have tried to have him removed from the case. Hezbollah officials have reportedly threatened Bitar if the outcome of his investigation was not to their liking.

Both Hezbollah and Amal members of the Lebanese government boycotted cabinet meetings for more than three months over the port blast investigation, paralyzing the political system.

Ministers returned to the cabinet once more in December, despite Judge Bitar remaining the head of the investigation. An emergency parliamentary session, convened by Lebanon’s PM to discuss the 2022 budget, currently gives sitting members of Parliament immunity from questioning and prosecution in the case.

Since the convening of the parliamentary session, no substantial progress has been made on the case.