Families of the Beirut blast victims hold up photos of the loved ones they lost in the blast at a protest following the removal of Judge Fadi Sawan from the case. (Photo: Ghassan Mogharbel)
Families of the Beirut blast victims hold up photos of the loved ones they lost at a protest following the removal of Judge Fadi Sawan from the investigation. (Photo: Ghassan Mogharbel)

Criminals seek new “general amnesty” by buying off blast investigation

Years have passed since the Lebanese civil war left more than 150,000 dead and around 17,000 missing, their fate unknown to this day. Post-war leaders began buying-off the displaced and war-disabled, granting compensation to the displaced and occupiers of homes alike.

The buying-off process was among the tools used by authorities to obscure the facts and prevent the provision of real justice for victims, equating them with the executioners and preventing the trial of any war criminal by passing the general amnesty law.

Today, multiple parties are attempting to use the same scheme to face the families of the port explosion victims. Recent developments show that the general amnesty law –which allowed war criminals to escape prosecution in the past– is returning to us in yet another form: Where the “truth” comes in a ready-made can that demands the end of the port explosion investigation before it truly arrives at solid conclusions.

Today’s developments suggest that those in power are working hard to file results that serve their own interests. The recent speech of the Secretary-General of Hezbollah serves as clear evidence.

Hassan Nasrallah called on the Lebanese judiciary to “announce the truth of the Beirut port explosion,” claiming that internal and external investigations have been completed and the real causes have been found. According to him, insurance companies “have not compensated the families of the martyrs.”

Nasrallah’s position coincides with the positions of a number of political forces seeking to obstruct the investigation. Specifically, the political parties who knew that the deadly ammonium nitrate was present in hangar 12 but didn’t lift a finger.

These parties publicly demanded that the explosion’s main judicial investigator, Judge Fadi Sawan, be removed from the case under the pretext of legitimate suspicion. They did so shamelessly, through a lawsuit filed by former ministers Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil which the Court of Cassation obliged to.

In short, politicians are looking to bribe the families of the victims and those affected through compensation that will close the investigation and keep the real cause of the blast out of the limelight. In the face of the relentless efforts of those in power and the real fears that threaten the investigation, two note-worthy positions have emerged that can positively alter the course of discussion on the Beirut blast investigation.

The push for an independent judiciary

The first position concerns the formation of the Coalition for an Independent Lebanese Judiciary, which considered the court battle regarding the request for the resignation of Judge Sawan is in its essence “a battle over ministerial immunities, which have always stood as the broadest doorway into impunity and threatened the entire social and legal structure to the point of collapse.”

The coalition waited for the court to commend Judge Sawan’s diligence in narrowing the concept of immunities in a way that preserves what remains of the legal structure. Instead, the court “considered that his insistence on surpassing these immunities constituted a factor of suspicion.”

The coalition believes that this is in line with the demands of the influential powers that cling to their immunities and their red lines more than their loyalty to the vital interests of society. This court decision “weakened the remaining confidence in the judiciary, especially since it came within a case that deeply wounds all Lebanese.”

In the reasoning behind the decision to dismiss Judge Sawan, the Court of Cassation cited that his impartiality may be affected since his house was damaged by the explosion. The coalition considers the court decision as one that diminishes the scale of the crime that occured and the damage caused by the explosion. The blast caused comprehensive damage that affected all people in Lebanon, even if it is disproportionate, in the same way that the state’s bankruptcy, economic collapse, and the crumbling of public services do.

The coalition condemned any interference in or intimidation of the judiciary, denouncing “any invocation of impunity by any of the authorities that have brought society to a state of collapse” and pledging to support all reformist judges in their battle for the independence of the judiciary –an essential social priority.

On that note, the newly-appointed judicial investigator of the blast, Tarek Bitar, was mentioned in the coalition’s statement.

All reformist judges, including Lebanon’s Judges’ Club, asked him to use discourse and diligence to work for the benefit of society by aiming to end impunity –given that the independence of the judiciary “not only to guarantee democracy and civil peace, which cannot exist alongside injustice and equality, but also to ensure state sovereignty, which is not a slogan but a building erected through just and capable institutions. The approval of laws that ensure the realization of the judiciary’s independence stands at this construction’s cornerstone.”

Families united under the “sect” of the victims

The coalition is not the only group that’s read an attempt to weaken the case and wrap it up in the actions of Lebanese authorities. The second note-worthy position belongs to the families of the victims of the August 4 crime.

The families were united by their pain, the suffering of a great loss with the departure of those most beloved to them. In the face of the authorities’ attempts to politicize and buy off their pain, they responded by saying that “this pain has now become like a new identity for us that’s stronger than any other identity.” They will not allow the investigation to be closed nor the arrival at just “any truth.”

The families of the victims rejected “any attempt to classify them within sects or within any political groups, considering these classifications to be a forgery of the truth done in an attempt to transform the movement into a sectarian one, leading to its weakening and fragmentation in the game of bargaining and political disputes.”

In a statement, they declared their unity with regards to their one supreme goal: Finding the truth and justice through an independent and impartial investigation, considering themselves to belong to the “sect” of the victims.

The families did not hide their deep concern about the course of the investigation in their statement, calling on all people to take part in correcting this path.

Everyone should “deal with it as a given and a priority that is not subject to any compromise or settlement, and not just as a demand that is subject to profit and loss and rulings that protect this or that.”

What the families of the Beirut blast victims are afraid of is the inability to achieve justice and bring the truth to light, in the presence of political interventions and immunities that shamelessly express themselves across the Lebanese political landscape.