Murr says the best way to honor their memory is to find out the truth. “The good truth too – not just one version of the truth, a convenient white lie. At the moment we don’t have answers to our questions and that’s what hurts us.
However, the judge responsible for finding these answers operates with one hand tied behind his back.
Judge Tarek Bitar wants to question a host of senior security officials and high-ranking politicians, including former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, but has been blocked by soft immunity laws protecting the Lebanese elite.
The Lebanese constitution stipulates that no member of parliament can be prosecuted or arrested during the current session for having committed a crime, unless authorized to do so by parliament or the person is “caught in the act”.
Bitar sought to interview the chief of the general security directorate, Abbas Ibrahim, and the head of state security, Tony Saliba, without success. Bitar is also pursuing charges against former army commander Jean Kahwaji and former military intelligence chief Kameel Daher.
Documents uncovered by investigative journalists and human rights activists show officials made and received repeated warnings about the risks of storing ammonium nitrate in the warehouse for six years, but did nothing to solve the problem.
Human Rights Watch says the correspondence “strongly suggests” that some government officials foresaw and tacitly accepted the risks of death posed by the stockpile, which could amount in national law to homicide with probable intent and / or unintentional homicide. .
“Those responsible should be sentenced to death,” argues Murr.
While Judge Bitar is seen as a good operator, the families of the victims do not believe the Lebanese system will ever allow an investigation to approach those responsible for the disaster and instead want a United Nations-led investigation.
“The explosion is just a manifestation of deep corruption, neglect and lack of accountability, and the Lebanese people cannot be guaranteed that something like this will not happen again,” he said. Australian Sarah Copland, whose two-year-old son Isaac Oehlers was the youngest victim in the blast.
“After the explosion, a German company went to the port as part of the cleanup and found other poorly stored chemicals. They said the amount that was there could have caused an even bigger explosion than last year.
Copland has yet to receive a response from the Australian government regarding its support for a UN investigation. A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australia “strongly and unequivocally supports a full, credible and transparent investigation,” but did not endorse the UN idea.
“We continue to engage with our international partners on this tragedy. This includes discussions with our partners around proposals for [UN] resolutions.
“At first when all of this happened, I remember turning to my husband [Craig Oehlers] and saying, ‘there is no point in thinking about justice because in a system like Lebanon’s, that will never happen,’ ”Copland remembers.
“Maybe I was right initially and it will never happen, but if we don’t even try, then it’s just to say that what happened to Isaac and all the other people that day -this is OK.
“What happened to Isaac should never have happened. He was sitting at home, having dinner and singing nursery rhymes [when the explosion occurred] and it was beyond comprehension that it happened to him.
“I can’t let this go.”
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