‘Listen to our pleas’: Beirut blast victims call for global support | Beirut explosion

Beirut, Lebanon A dozen teenagers gathered outside the French Embassy in the Lebanese capital holding portraits of their 15-year-old classmate Elias Khoury, who was killed in the Beirut port explosion in August 2020.

They called last week for an international inquiry to help move forward a local investigation that senior Lebanese officials have obstructed and blocked for more than a year.

“We always tried to tell them [the international community] that our track record in such cases is not very encouraging,” Mireille Khoury, Elias’ mother, later told Al Jazeera.

Rights and family groups have praised senior investigating judge Tarek Bitar for not bowing to political pressure and setting a precedent for a strong independent judiciary in Lebanon, a country marred by corruption, nepotism and corruption. strangled justice system.

However, more families who lost loved ones in the devastating Beirut port explosion are now backing calls for the international community to back the maverick judge in an advisory role via a fact-finding mission mandated by the government. United Nations.

Khoury and other families are now pointing to an upcoming UN Human Rights Council session in March as an opportunity to pass a resolution.

Watchdog Human Rights Watch and some of the families have approved this for over a year. They say this will provide Bitar with additional resources and fight ongoing obstructions.

“I support the judge with all my might, and with every drop of my brother’s blood that has been shed,” said Rima Zahed, whose brother Amin, 42, was also killed in the blast. “The international support would work in parallel with the local investigation.”

“Kill the Survey”

The explosion of August 4, 2020 shook the Lebanese capital after the explosion of a huge stock of ammonium nitrate, stored dangerously at the port for years. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. More than 200 people were killed, 6,500 injured and entire neighborhoods destroyed. No official has yet been sentenced.

A year and a half after the devastating explosion, a handful of senior Bitar politicians accused of criminal negligence are refusing to appear for questioning, while security agencies have refused to execute arrest warrants.

Officials continually attempted to remove Bitar from the investigation by filing court complaints, which sometimes temporarily suspended the investigation.

Additionally, activists, journalists and lawyers have accused the government of misinformation and “political campaigning” to delegitimize Bitar’s investigation through its politically affiliated media outlets.

Legal analysts told Al Jazeera the aim was to block – and ultimately kill – the investigation.

After the explosion, the FBI of the United States and the French justice carried out investigations which were not conclusive.

Calls for a fair inquiry

The families of the victims of the Beirut port explosion have urged the international community to support the local investigation in other ways as well – but to no avail.

“Unfortunately they are not helping at all,” Mariana Foudoulian, who lost her sister, Gaia, in the blast told Al Jazeera. “Judge Bitar is working and he’s asking for help.”

Through the Beirut Bar Association, they requested all available satellite imagery of the port on the day of the explosion to help determine whether it was intentional or not, and whether the United Nations Interim Force at Lebanon (UNIFIL) had checked the ship carrying the explosive. ammonium nitrate – the MV Rhosus – before docking at the port in 2013.

So far, only Russia has provided satellite images to the Lebanese government, following a request from President Michel Aoun’s office. Foreign Minister Abdullah Bouhabib received the photos last November, although it is unclear whether the ministry passed them on to Judge Bitar.

Additionally, Lebanese filmmaker Firas Hatoum last year in an investigation linked a UK-registered company called Savaro Limited, which owned the explosives, to a Syrian businessman close to President Bashar al-Assad. .

Two senior British parliamentarians called for an investigation into the company days after the revelations, but nothing came of it.

Melhem Khalf, then president of the Beirut Bar Association, which represented thousands of families affected by the explosion, also sent a letter to the British government, asking it to investigate the company.

Elias’ mother, Mireille Khoury, said governments around the world need to start “listening to our calls and our pleas”, adding that the investigation so far proves there needs to be greater international support. .

“It’s already been a year and a half, what are they waiting for?”

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