Despite the significant political and judicial challenges facing the 2020 Beirut port explosion investigation, the victims' families and civil society remain committed to uncovering the truth and holding those responsible accountable.
Noun, a local group in partnership with Human Rights Watch, organized a sit-in outside of Beirut's Justice Palace on Tuesday. The sit-in called on the Human Rights Council — the UN intergovernmental body dedicated to protecting human rights — to establish an international fact-finding commission into the blast.
Such a commission would be responsible for gathering evidence related to the explosion that killed over 220 people and injured 6,500, and make it available to both the Lebanese judiciary and the UN Secretariat.
Nawal Meouchy, an activist representing Noun, voiced her disappointment with the ruling class's evasion of responsibility, stressing that Lebanon's “justice system has been held hostage by a bunch of politicians who control the country.”
Lama Fakih, director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa (MENA) office, urged the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council to support the establishment of an international fact-finding commission.
“The victims' relatives have the right to know who is responsible for the death of their loved ones,” she told L'Orient-Le Jour.
Fakih said that, for over two years, her team has been urging several ambassadors of member states to classify the port blast as a human rights violation.
She lamented the fact that “many states do not consider [the blast] a human rights issue, but an accident.”
Fakih, however, indicated that this might be changing.
Fakih said Australia has initiated a petition that member-states could sign during the current Human Rights Council session.
She hopes the “joint statement would send a message to the Lebanese government expressing the Council's concern about the case and urging it to facilitate the unblocking of the investigation into the Beirut explosion.”
Fakih explained that the petition's signatories would urge other members to vote for the establishment of an international fact-finding commission, removing obstacles to the investigation.
She hopes that a resolution will be passed during the Council's next session in June.
Tracy Najjar, the mother of Alexandra, who was just three and a half years old when she was killed in the explosion, expressed confidence in the progress being made.
Speaking from Paris, where she met with French foreign ministry officials regarding the case, she expressed optimism.
“France and other EU states seem to want to approve the establishment of a commission's designation,” Najjar told L'Orient-Le Jour, adding that “it's going in the right direction.”
She also acknowledged the need to strengthen lobbying efforts with the United States, Latin American, and African countries, expressing regret that “Middle Eastern countries are not in favor of such a decision.”
Unlike an international investigation, which would be conducted by the UN Security Council, the fact-finding commission would not require an invitation from the Lebanese state.
The Lebanese state is historically hesitant to invite foreign investigations. In the aftermath of the explosion, former president Michel Aoun said an international investigation would “obfuscate the truth.”
Sources close to the investigating judge at the Court of Justice, Tarek Bitar, suggested he would welcome a fact-finding commission to aid the ongoing investigation.
Any assistance that could aid the Lebanese judiciary in advancing the case is considered desirable, according to the same sources.
Such a commission would help bring international attention to the case, which has been hampered by dozens of appeals lodged against Bitar.
However, it is unclear how a fact-finding commission could assist the local judiciary which appears to be paralyzed.
A judicial source told L'Orient-Le Jour that Bitar considers all appeals launched against him to be illegal.
Bitar is expecting to be questioned by a judge appointed by the president of the Higher Judicial Council, Souheil Abboud, following a complaint filed by the Attorney General of the Court of Cassation for “usurpation of power.”
If the magistrate appointed deems Bitar to be competent, he could continue his investigation despite any current or future appeals. In this context, a fact-finding commission could facilitate his work.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.