'Dozens' of new criminal cases to be filed in EU countries for Beirut port blast victims
Dozens of new criminal cases are being prepared to be filed in several European countries on behalf of victims of the Beirut port blast as the domestic probe has been blocked by authorities, The New Arab has learned.
Cases are being prepared to be filed in Germany, France, Belgium, Croatia and the UK, Zeina Wakim, a lawyer with Accountability Now, told TNA.
No one has yet been prosecuted in connection with the 4 August 2020 blast which killed at least 250 people and wounded over 6,000. Authorities have consistently thrown up roadblocks to block the investigation, including taking the first judge off the case.
Accountability Now, a Swiss organisation that supports Lebanese legal society, released a call on 25 January for European passport holders to file criminal complaints in their national jurisdictions.
Many of those killed in the Beirut port blast were either dual-national Lebanese or foreign nationals. Courts in their countries of origin can open up criminal investigations into the Beirut port blast, which could lead to indictments in these countries as the Lebanese investigation is stalled.
The organisation has received "dozens" of cases from individuals who want legal representation in their national jurisdictions since last week, Wakim said.
The sudden influx of cases comes after Lebanon's top prosecutor charged the judge leading the Beirut port blast investigation, Judge Tarek Bitar, for "usurpation of legal authority" on 25 January.
The prosecutor, himself wanted for questioning, then released all of the detainees in connection with the case and said the judiciary would act as if Bitar’s legal orders "did not exist."
Bitar said that the prosecutor's actions amounted to a "legal coup" since the prosecutor was himself implicated in the case and previously recused himself.
"I have no faith in the Lebanese justice system. I thought after the blast they will do something, but as if it's nothing happened. At least after Hiroshima, they made peace," a Lebanese citizen who filed a case with Accountability Now last week told TNA under the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.
The citizen filed a case on behalf of their mother who was killed in the blast and was a citizen of an EU country.
"I only want to see a recognition of who did this. It would help me psychologically more than anything else to see who is morally responsible," the citizen said.
There are already open cases related to the Beirut port blast in the United States, France and Germany.
Victims of the Beirut port blast and human rights organisations have also called for an independent, international fact-finding mission into the port blast.
The investigation would not carry criminal charges but instead, uncover facts which could complement national investigations inside and outside Lebanon.
"The conclusions of a fact-finding mission established by the HRC will support any proceedings initiated outside of Lebanon," Wakim said.
An international mission would need to be established by the member states of the UN Human Rights Council and could be set up without the consent of Lebanon.