Calls for International Investigation into Beirut Blast Intensify
The Lebanese Forces party recently held a conference demanding justice and accountability for the devastating explosion that rocked Beirut in 2020.
Several political parties and notable voices in Lebanon are demanding an international investigation into the 2020 Beirut explosion. One of the most vocal is the Lebanese Forces (LF), the country’s largest political party, which held a press conference on March 9 at the Citea Apart Hotel in the Beirut suburb of Achrafieh. The conference, called “United Nations for Beirut,” began with a moment of silence for the 220 victims who died in the blast and a standing ovation for the Lebanese national anthem. Dr. Richard Kouyoumijian, a former minister, endorsed Australia’s call at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 7 for the Lebanese authorities to conduct an independent and swift investigation into the truth about the port explosion. It is well-established that the blast resulted from the unsafe storage of 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate. However, the question of how it got there and why it was left so vulnerable remains unresolved.
Before LF officials gave their statements, a video of the Beirut blast and its aftermath was shown. The footage, showcasing a devastated port and a damaged city, with people paralyzed from the horror they experienced, had an emotional effect. Kouyoumjian, who is also the head of the LF’s Foreign Relations Service, spoke to the audience about the UNHRC’s position and the bleak and challenging situation in pursuing the port case.
According to the LF and the Strong Republic bloc, of which the LF is a member of, the statement from the Human Rights Council is a crucial step in their ongoing efforts to uncover the truth and bring justice to those affected by the Beirut blast. “We knew from the first moment that the domestic investigation would not reach happy conclusions,” said Kouyoumjian. In addition, he criticized Hezbollah’s attempts to hinder legal proceedings aimed at uncovering the truth about the blast, even if it means going outside the law. He reminded the audience of Wafiq Safa, an official of the Coordination and Liaison Unit in Hezbollah, who went to the Palace of Justice to send threatening messages to the judge Tariq Bitar, head of Beirut’s criminal court and the lead of the investigation into the port explosion.
Furthermore, Kouyoumjian accused Hezbollah of being behind “security events, such as the Tayouneh-Ain al-Rummaneh incident, leading to a rift between the families of the victims themselves in an effort to disrupt the investigation.” Another such incident was when Bitar, called on Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, both members of parliament (MPs) from the Amal Movement, a political party, to answer questions in 2021. Not only did the two MPs refuse to appear in court, but afterwards Bitar began receiving threats from both Amal and its ally, Hezbollah, along for calls for his removal on the grounds that he was “partisan.”
Former deputy prime minister Ghassan Hasbani spoke after Kouyoumjian about the Lebanese judiciary's ability to carry out its duties.
“Shortly after the Beirut port explosion, and with our confidence in the Lebanese judiciary in general, due to the continued presence of a number of judges who abide by the law and principles, we were the first to call for an international investigation committee to support the Lebanese judiciary for fear of any interference to obstruct or stop the investigation. And that is what happened. We supported the families of the victims and those affected by this, believing that the destruction, death, and physical and moral damage inflicted on Beirut, specifically the areas of the port, Medawar, Rmeil, Saifi, and Ashrafieh, cannot pass without revealing the truth.” Ghassan, in other words, demanded accountability and compensation for damages, regardless of whether the perpetrators were guilty, negligent, or accomplices.
During the event, I had the opportunity to speak with Hasbani and asked about the consequences of efforts to stonewall the investigation. He responded by stating that accused politicians who fail to fulfill their legal and moral responsibilities are committing a human rights violation, just like the blast itself.
According to Hasbani, repeated procedural claims made by the accused to challenge the actions taken by the judge presiding over the investigation and refusal to comply with judicial requests are forms of obstruction of justice. Additionally, when the political establishment, represented by the executive branch, fails to appoint high court judges to fill council vacancies and prevent the council from passing judgment on these claims, it is a political action that serves to derail the investigation and obstruct justice.
Hasbani also commented about the little attention and importance the international community is giving to the investigation. “An explosion of such a scale with international links to the transportation of explosive material should have received more international attention. At least to prevent such a situation arising again to prevent more illicit activities.”
Depressingly, Hasbani indicated that, because of the politicization of Lebanon’s judiciary, it would be close to impossible to expect an honest outcome. “A purely domestic investigation can only succeed if the judiciary system is left to work independently without interference from the political system of involvement and has the de facto power on the ground.”
Lebanese citizens are also not convinced of the integrity of Lebanese courts. William Noun, an activist demanding the truth and accountability for the loss of his brother, Joe Noun, who was a firefighter on call during the blast, attended the conference and shared his perspective afterwards. “We have been struggling to find the truth of the Beirut port explosion for thirty-one months, today. The Lebanese court system is being interfered by politicians.” Noun was arrested in January by State Security for alleged threats against the Justice Palace if it didn’t follow its legal obligations. He was eventually released.
He did not make accusations on who specifically should be held accountable for the blast. Noun’s only request is for a judicial finding to proceed freely to find answers. “We aren’t responsible for nominating who is behind the port blast. This is the role of the courts, locally and or internationally.” He stated all efforts to discover the truth are welcomed. “We support anyone who believes and works to find the path to the truth. Regardless, if they were the Lebanese Forces or another party.”
The 2020 Beirut blast will not only be remembered as an event in history but also as a painful, living memory for those who lost loved ones. While houses can be rebuilt, emotions healed, and time can pass, a person who has been killed can never return. The best way to honor them is to uncover the truth without any hesitation or apology. This can only be achieved by conducting an honest and transparent investigation that is free from the influence of Lebanon's divisive and regrettable politics.
Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.