Lebanese civil society in Washington to press for targeted sanctions, international investigation
Zeina Wakim, a Lebanese human rights lawyer, alongside a family member of a victim of the Beirut port blast, is leading the campaign to get Washington to draft new sanctions on Lebanon's political class.
Wakim is also representing 12 US plaintiffs in a case against a US-based firm TGS, which they allege is liable for damages from the Beirut port blast.
Wakim and the family member will meet with members of the US House and Senate, as well as "high-ranking members" of the Biden administration, Wakim told The New Arab.
They will be pushing for sanctions on 5 to 10 individuals, including both politicians and the economic cronies of the political class. Wakim declined to specify the names of these individuals.
"We are targeting people who are willfully and knowingly obstructing the implementation of reforms, including financial reforms," Wakim said, adding that they would also target those who are obstructing the blast probe.
"We will not only go after Lebanese politicians, we are also going after their enablers. There is this obstruction by non-public servants; it's a whole network," Wakim continued.
Some, like former FM Gebran Bassil, are officials designated as furthering corruption in Lebanon. Others, like Jihad al-Arab, are businesspeople deemed by the US to have "undermined the rule of law in Lebanon."
Wakim said the next step would be ensuring coordination and "common sanctions" by the US and Europe on certain Lebanese individuals.
They will also be asking the US to lead the charge for a UN investigation into the port blast case. Civil society has previously urged the UN to conduct a fact-finding mission in the 4 August 2020 blast, which killed at least 251 people and injured 7,500.
Lebanon's domestic probe has been effectively shut down by its political class. An international investigation would gather evidence that could be used in courts all around the world, such as in the US-based case against TGS.
To set up an international investigation, a member of the UN Human Rights Council would have to put forward a resolution calling for one – and then other member states would vote to approve it.
Lebanese civil society had previously looked to France for assistance in setting up an international probe, but despite French President Emmanuel Macron's rhetoric, this support has not materialised.
"We believe that the US has a role to play in bringing about accountability for the explosion. This is a strong message not only for the Lebanese leaders who are obstructing the reforms … but also a message of hope to civil society who feel let down by Mr Macron," Wakim said.