Lebanon: End chronic impunity and ensure accountability for the Beirut blast
As the first anniversary of the devastating Beirut port blast approaches, the Lebanese government must stop interfering with the ongoing judicial investigation into the explosion and ensure that those responsible be held to account, the ICJ said today.
هذا البيان الصحفيّ متوفّر باللغة العربية أيضاً
One of history’s most powerful non-nuclear explosions, the 4 August 2020 Beirut port blast killed at least 217 people, injuring 7,000 others, and caused major infrastructural damage that forcibly displaced around 300,000 people. However, a year on from the Lebanese authorities’ pledge to conduct a “transparent investigation” into the explosion, the victims and their families are still waiting for the truth to be established and for justice to be done.
On 18 February 2021, less than six months after his appointment to investigate the blast, the Court of Cassation removed judge Fadi Sawan from the case. Sawan’s removal came after two former ministers, who had been facing criminal charges in the case, filed a complaint against him before the Prosecutor General, requesting his removal.
“Lebanon’s investigation into the blast has been largely ineffective and flawed, notably due to the disgraceful interference with the work of investigative judges,” said Said Benarbia, the ICJ’s MENA Director.
“It’s time to end the decades-long impunity of Lebanese officials, and ensure the prosecution of those implicated in corruption and systematic abuse of power.”
Recently, Mohamed Fehmi, Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister, refused the request of the new investigative judge, Tariq Bitar, to question security officials, including the head of General Security, Maj, Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, in connection with their involvement in the port explosion.
On 29 July 2021, the Lebanese Parliament announced it was prepared to accede to Bitar’s request for the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of a number of lawmakers who were ministers at the time of the explosion.
“The Lebanese parliament’s announcement that it would lift immunity is a step forward that must be swiftly realized in practice. The questioning of other officials, including the head of General Security, must urgently be allowed,” said Benarbia.
The ICJ has extensively documented the improper influence by political actors over the judiciary in Lebanon, and called for comprehensive legal and policy reforms to ensure that the judiciary is fully independent, impartial and accountable. The ICJ considers that, due to Lebanon’s failure to adopt such reforms, chronic impunity is set to continue, and the blast probe will be no exception.
In June 2021, along with other organizations, the ICJ called the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international, independent and impartial investigative mission to inquire into the port blast.
“International actors, including UN Member States must support and facilitate an independent and impartial investigation into the Beirut port blast,” said Benarbia. “This is the only way to ensure access to justice for the victims and their families and their right to an effective remedy.”
Said Benarbia, Director, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41-22-979-3817; e: said.benarbia(a)icj.org
Asser Khattab, Research and Communications’ Officer, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, e: asser.khattab(a)icj.org