Legal cases abroad are giving survivors hope for justice amid a stalled Lebanese investigation, but they say an independent UN probe remains essential.
It has been a long two years for the families of the more than 200 people who were killed in the Beirut port explosion, but as the Lebanese investigation continues to be obstructed, the fight for justice could be picking up steam amid new legal cases launched from abroad.
Tania Dou-Alam and her husband Jean-Frederic Alam were attending an appointment at St George hospital, which overlooks Beirut port, on the evening of August 4, 2020, when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate ignited in a port warehouse – resulting in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.
Freddie, as Dou-Alam affectionately refers to her husband, was killed instantly as the glass of the building shattered and threw them across the room.
Ever since the explosion, in which more than 7,000 people were also injured and much of the surrounding neighbourhoods were destroyed, Dou-Alam, and others who had family members killed, have unwaveringly called for justice.
“It makes me feel like I’m doing something for Freddie, because we owe him, we owe them all the truth and justice,” Dou-Alam said.
The evidence that has emerged strongly suggests that high-ranking officials in government and the security forces knew about the risk from the ammonium nitrate stockpile and tacitly accepted it. Reports have also raised questions over the links between officials and offshore trade and cast doubt on the claims by companies involved in shipping the hazardous cargo.
But Lebanon’s investigation has been stymied by relentless political interference, including by Lebanese politicians filing more than 25 requests to dismiss the judges leading the investigation, starting with Judge Fadi Sawan, who was dismissed in February 2021.
His successor, Judge Tarek Bitar, has faced the same pressure and legal challenges, which has resulted in the investigation being suspended since December last year. Bitar had issued arrest warrants for some officials, although the security forces did not act on them.