Damage in Karantina, Lebanon following the Beirut blast. | Article: Beirut port explosion: No peace without justice. Photographer: Lynn Sheikh Moussa. Article: Justice after the Beirut blast
Damage in Karantina, Lebanon following the Beirut blast. (Photo: Lynn Sheikh Moussa)

Beirut port explosion: No peace without justice

A devastating explosion ripped through Beirut on August 4, shattering the lives and houses of many. President Michel Aoun promised that an investigation would name those responsible for the blast within five days. Lebanese people chuckled.

Today, almost two months after the explosion, the results of the investigation promised by Aoun are yet to be disclosed. Worse yet, the Lebanese president has yet to sign the decree discharging Badri Daher –the notorious Director General of Customs.

For the people of Lebanon, the explosion was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If 2020 is a devastating year for the world, it proved apocalyptic for Lebanon. Unsurprisingly, all of Lebanon’s problems stem from the same source: the Lebanese political class that has ruled the country for the last three decades.

No accountability since the 1975 civil war

Lebanon’s deadly mistake was to forgo accountability in the aftermath of the 1975 civil war. The government adopted a general amnesty law on August 26, 1991 and with the stroke of a pen, the political class discharged itself from all responsibility it had in the brutal fifteen-year war.

Having amassed capital, power, and popular support, warlords who were previously at each other’s throats shook hands and agreed to reap the spoils of war. If history can teach us anything, it is that warlords are impotent governors. Lebanese warlords do not disappoint.

The Lebanese junta wrecked the economy through an array of cunning governance measures in the past year, salvaged what money it could from the banks, and stored it –honest people’s life savings–  in foreign banks.

Citizens woke up to find their money’s worth no more than numbers on a screen.

The same political class also failed to contemplate the dangers of leaving 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate –stored at the port for six years– in close proximity to tons of fireworks.

Since 2014, officials “omitted” to remove the chemicals that caused the strongest non-nuclear blast in modern history.

In the wake of the explosion, protests and independent political movements failed to capitalize on the anger of the street to overthrow the Lebanese political class. The uprisings did lead, however, to the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government –a figurehead prime minister appointed by the same self-serving politicians.

No trust in a local investigation

It is safe to assume that domestic legal avenues will not quench the victims’ thirst for justice. Some Lebanese judges are notorious for arresting human rights activists and turning a blind eye to the looting of public coffers.

When there is very little trust in domestic legal avenues, victims naturally seek justice from international institutions. As such, many have called for an international investigation into the events leading up to the explosion.

The global landscape offers various international legal avenues for prosecuting those responsible for atrocities such as the Beirut port explosion.

First, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court could investigate the crimes committed in the wake of the blast.

Even though Lebanon is not a state party to the Rome Statute, the United Nations Security Council could refer the situation to the International Criminal Court as it did in Libya and Sudan. Although, the chances of success of such action are thin.

Second, the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Human Rights Council or the United Nations Secretary General could create an International Fact-Finding Mission tasked with investigating the events that led up to the explosion.

Should this option be deployed, it would need to be implemented immediately as the quality of the evidence deteriorates with the passing of time.

Third, the United Nations Security Council has the option of creating an ad hoc tribunal to investigate the recklessness of the Lebanese government. Nevertheless, some in Lebanon are wary of ad hoc tribunals due to the perceived shortcomings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon – which many dubbed the most expensive trial in history. 

Nevertheless, no matter the mechanism or the tribunal, it is crucial that the victims with the support of the entire Lebanese population, coordinate their efforts to pursue all legal avenues available –including domestic ones.

Lebanon’s history proves that there can be no sustainable peace without justice, and it is unquestionable that Lebanon’s last chance at redemption is accountability.

Forgoing justice in the wake of the civil war proved destructive. Forgoing justice today will be the last nail in the coffin of the Lebanese state.