Second Anniversary of the Crime of the Age

Justice Is “Off” And Families Demand Int’l Fact-Finding Commission
A general view shows the damage at the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

The "smoke of pain" that has been rising for days as a result of the continuous fire in the wheat barns pulsates in Beirut's port, amid warnings of the collapse of the "silent witness" as flames rage in a "suspicious" scene that recreates the image of the earthquake explosion in Beirut, to coincide with Lebanon's commemoration of the tragedy's second anniversary.

On August 4, 2020, a few minutes were enough to shake the Lebanese capital and the island of Cyprus, 200 kilometers away, with "horrific" scenes that only happen in movies after an explosion in "Amber No. 12" in the port. It held approximately 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate for years without any safeguards. It was later revealed that the officials were aware of the dangers of storing the material but did nothing about it.

Lebanon marks the second anniversary of the semi-nuclear explosion, which killed over 200 people, injured over 6,500 others, and destroyed a number of the capital's neighborhoods and residents, who, rather than seeking justice for the Crime of the Age, fear a possible disaster due to officials' failure. In the case of the barn fire, for example, direct intervention to extract the remaining quantity of wheat is extremely difficult due to unstable infrastructure, and the "thinness" of the state's measures to mitigate the dangers and dire consequences of the fire's spread, which is likely to continue. According to experts, the combination of so much grain in an area of high humidity adjacent to the sea and with high temperatures accelerates grain fermentation and leads to methane emissions.

In conjunction with the preparations for the "ominous day," several civil authorities have launched a solidarity campaign this month to protect the dump sites of the earlier explosion, with the goal of standing up to any decision aimed at demolishing the dumps and changing the identity of the site after the crime, and demanded that the dumps be recognized as part of Beirut's cultural heritage by protecting and preserving it in honor of the victims and the affected as a "silent wiping out." Meanwhile, debates raged among deputies during the first session of the new parliament, which was held against the backdrop of the nonsense clause and the vote to demolish or strengthen it, amid accusations and responsibilities but no concrete solutions.

 

Men ride a motorcycle past a damaged building near the site of the blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

 

Victims' Families' Actions: There Will Be No Compromise On Justice

The families of the victims reject what they see as a step toward erasing the last traces of the crime, while the demand for justice and truth remains mired in premeditated "procrastination" and determination to protect "known" perpetrators, according to the families who are continuing the struggle with the killers' vengeance, and they are planning a series of moves. According to William Noun (brother of Joe Noun, one of the fire brigade martyrs), on behalf of the families of the martyrs and victims of the harbor explosion, in memory of the tragedy; "The Beirut Fire Brigade, will pause in respect and there will also be a gathering in front of the port and marches in the destroyed neighborhoods, as well as a mass with the participation of the families of the victims and the wounded," he said to Majalla, calling on the Lebanese to participate heavily with them “in order to support them in their demands."

Concerning the investigation into the crime, Noun stated that “The people are doing everything they can to pressure the investigation to continue and to punish those involved. The people's demand is for an international fact-finding commission, rather than an international court, in order to achieve justice.” He explained that on the first of August, he will present himself by adding his personal name against the perpetrators and negligent persons.

Concerning the port dump fire, Noun stated that: “There are those who ignite the wheat in order to carry it out, and what the people are asking for is the survival of these wheat sheds so that the explosion remains firmly in people's memory, and its demolition means that nothing happened, and this is rejected.”

Noun also emphasized that; “People are in favour of the port being rebuilt, but with the remains of the rubbish area belonging to the fire brigade specifically to remain a witness to the crime so that it does not reoccur, without forgetting that the state's continuation of its current approach will lead to a repetition of an explosion similar to what happened.”

Obstruction in Legal Course of Investigation

Lebanon continues to fall short of its human rights obligations by failing to hold the perpetrators of the Beirut Port explosion accountable, despite months of procrastination, a lack of political will, and several complaints that resulted in the removal of former judge Fadi Sawan and further delays in the work of the current judge, Tariq Bitar, while the obstruction chapters continue in the file, which has reached the number of plaintiffs. They have 46 members, including former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and current deputies Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zuaiter (who were charged with criminal negligence and refused to cooperate with the investigation and now enjoy parliamentary immunity), as well as former ministers Youssef Finianos and Nohad Al-Machnouk. In addition to security leaders, judges, and former general managers at the port and customs, 17 of them are still detained, and the lawsuits against Judge Al-Bitar and the transfer of the case before him are still pending before the courts due to the failure of the General Authority of the Court of Cassation to decide on them – the reason for this stems from Finance Minister Youssef Khalil's failure to sign a decree appointing the heads of the Courts of Cassation, which comprises the court's general body.

Lawyer Youssef Lahoud, a member of the Bar Association's Prosecution Office, stated in response to the explosion in Beirut's port, that “The legal path is going in the right direction, but there is obstruction by some of those who were suspected, especially ministers and prime ministers who, when the names of some of them were mentioned in this file, began obstructing (the progress of the case).”

He also stressed that; “Time will remove these obstacles, and justice will be achieved against every person, because before justice there are no ranks or attributes, and people are equal.”

“Whoever obstructs justice harms both sides, whether the plaintiffs or the detainees. There are two possibilities for dissolution, the first is the signing of a decree forming the public body that is able to consider cases filed against the state for the work of judicial judges, and the second requirement is that the law be amended in the Parliament to prevent any party from requesting the removal of any of the judges' hands in any lawsuit, not just the current Judicial Council case involving the port, Lahoud explained.

Lahoud told his agency about the explosion's victims, saying; “Lawsuits were submitted to respond to Judge Bitar and transfer the case from his hands, and before the judicial authorities were able to consider the requests submitted before them, the obstructionists submitted requests for response and transfer against the judicial authorities that are looking into the lawsuit of Bitar's response, so this is a deliberate obstruction is to delay the dismissal under the pretext of investigating the port.”

“Things are moving along legally, but the slowness is in preventing the formation of the general body of the Court of Cassation and failing to make the necessary legal amendment,” Lahoud said.

“The first refers to the formation of the General Authority of the Court of Cassation, which is the procedural authority, specifically the Minister of Finance, who did not sign the amendment decree related to the formation of the General Authority after it was signed by the Minister of Justice and the Supreme Judicial Council. The second is about amending a law that is still being debated in Parliament”, he continued.

“These two references are political in nature. The first legal reference; the Supreme Judicial Council, agreed, as did the second legal reference, the Minister of Justice, who has legal status but is also political, implying that the obstructing references are political rather than judicial,” Lahoud pointed out.

 

A general view of the area damaged by a massive explosion and a blast wave, in Beirut, Lebanon August 5, 2020. Instagram/ @Rabzthecopter/via REUTERS

Regarding their legal strategy as port victims' agents, Lahoud stated: “There are lawsuits in which we will provide answers, and there are lawsuits in which we will blame the obstructionists for holidays and damages, etc., but the main door to moving the lawsuit is to complete the formation of the public body by virtue of a decree that must be signed by the Minister of Finance, then the Prime Minister, and finally the President of the Republic, and it is published in the Official Gazette, as it should be. The Parliament must change the law to allow one of the parties to halt the judge's work and limit the arrest to a second judicial reference.”

According to Lahoud; “The unprecedented crime exceeded the First World War and the famine that afflicted Lebanon, which destroyed the Lebanese economy, and its hesitations will continue in the future, and the goal of the families of the port victims is to achieve the rule of law, which can only be achieved through a fair trial that requires everyone to be tried before the judiciary.”

“All defendants are not to obstruct the investigation and appear before the judiciary, proving their innocence through legal means rather than arbitrary means to obstruct the proper course of justice, because history will not be merciful. The Lebanese citizen is currently busy with his daily life under these harsh conditions, but all of this will be documented in the future, and anyone who obstructs the course of justice in the crime of the age will have a black mark on their record.” Lahoud concluded.


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