Six months have passed since one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in the modern era ravaged our beloved Beirut. As today’s Lebanon continues to combat health, economic and social crises, receiving closure where we can would be more welcome than ever.
Six months have passed, and we would like nothing better than to recover, get back on our feet and move on. However, as strands of hope are getting harder to cling to, moving forward will be effectively impossible before justice is served.
Justice is owed to the excess of 200 people who were killed and the thousands who were injured or lost loved ones. It is also long overdue for the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes and businesses, and our readers, who were physically unharmed but emotionally and mentally scathed.
Every time we pass by the Port, every time we come across a windowless building and every time we hear the sound of broken glass, one critical question crosses our collective minds:
Who will be held accountable for the Beirut Explosion?
Unfortunately, after this long stretch of time, the local “investigation” has failed to yield any credible results. This can easily be attributed to political interference coupled with endemic failures of the Lebanese judicial system. In fact, given the culture of impunity and pressure from prominent groups, chances of a credible and impartial local investigation playing out are slim. To that effect, families of victims and advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have justifiably called for an international investigation into the Port Explosion.
Since the blast, nearly 30 people, most of them Port and Customs officials, have been arrested. In December 2020, Judge Sawan filed charges against caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three other former ministers, accusing them of negligence leading to the deaths of hundreds of people. They collectively failed to appear for questioning following the charges. The summoning sparked concerted criticism from most of Lebanon’s top politicians, describing it as politically motivated.
On February 18th, 2021, after weeks of delays, the Court of Cassation asked Judge Sawan to step down. This sudden move was seemingly related to the complaints submitted by Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter. Per lawyer Diane Assaf (@lawwithdiane), the former ministers asked the judge to recuse himself, citing violations of legal and constitutional procedures. Recently, political pressure mounted when ex-minister Fenianos once again refused to comply with court summons. However, it is evident that the issuance of judicial appeals related to three Syrian businessmen with suspected ties to the port shipment sealed Sawan’s fate.
Relatives of victims of the port explosion immediately took to the streets following news of Sawan’s dismissal. They voiced the frustrations of an entire nation as the promise of accountability remains out of reach. HRW researcher Aya Majzoub described the local case as a “charade”.
Who will take over for Judge Sawan? Will the successor take the recent revelations presented by journalist Hatoum into consideration? Will they follow the trail of breadcrumbs between the explosion and the three influential businessmen tied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad? Will the judge liaise with Interpol in relation to the red notices of the three figures? Will the local investigation uncover the truth; identifying the real criminals who destroyed our capital Beirut, and us?
Despite growing concerns over its legitimacy, the local investigation must trudge on. We’ll be following new developments intently.