PHOTO: Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images
Families of the 236 people who died in the Beirut port blast have called on the United Nations to start an international fact-finding mission on the third anniversary of the tragedy, as Lebanon’s woes deepen.People affected by the horrific explosion in 2020 called on the UN’s Human Rights Council in an open letter supported by more than 300 organisations and individuals. Their hopes of getting justice from the local Lebanese courts grow dimmer by the day as the legal saga drags on without any resolution.
“On the third anniversary of the explosion, we are no closer to justice and accountability for the catastrophe that damaged half of the capital city,” said the letter, which was put out by Human Rights Watch. It added that “the Lebanese authorities have repeatedly interfered with, obstructed and undermined the domestic investigation.”“Uncovering the truth of what happened on 4 August 2020 is the only way to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future and is pivotal to ensure redress after the devastation of that day,” it said. The blast, which was caused by a fire that ignited nearby stockpiles of confiscated ammonium nitrate, was blamed on the widespread incompetence and mismanagement of Lebanon’s ruling elite, many of whom are former warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war. The blast was the largest non-nuclear explosion in history, injuring some 7,000 people and destroying countless buildings which will cost an estimated $15 billion to repair. Besides Lebanese nationals, people from 15 other countries fell victim to the blast, with many states still waiting on answers from Lebanese officials on the causes of the explosion. An investigation was launched into why nearly 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used commonly in fertilisers and often in bombs, was stored in the port in the heart of the capital city, but it has since stalled. The case began to face serious pushback when fingers started to be pointed at the country’s senior political figures.
Despite resistance from the politicians and people connected to the powerful factions in the country, Tarek Bitar, the leading judge in the inquiry, went on to charge top officials in January this year in an attempt to re-start the case.Bitar charged Lebanon’s top prosecutor, Ghassan Oueidat; the head of general security, Abbas Ibrahim; and state security agency chief Tony Saliba, opening a new front of the already troubled case, but later Bitar was dismissed from his position and issued with a travel ban. The 17 people arrested in the original probe were also released. Lebanon is ruled by a power-sharing division, which gives the premiership to a Sunni Muslim, with the presidency reserved for a Christian and a Shia Muslim chairing parliament. The mechanism, which secures representation based on religious and sectarian constraints, has led to corruption, nepotism, and the gradual slide of the economy into ruins. Decades of poor governance has left people with little faith in the institutions of the country, meaning they are now calling for an international organisation to find the full story of what happened.