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Waiving of Immunity Is a Gateway to Justice for the Beirut Port Blast!

Waiving of Immunity Is a Gateway to Justice for the Beirut Port Blast!

Thursday, 8 July, 2021 - 11:00

Regarding the Beirut Port blast crime, which took place more than 11 months ago, the truth of what occurred and justice for the victims and Lebanon has become linked to “immunities,” behind which lies a corrupt political class, which, for decades, cultivated an approach of impunity. This political elite did not care that the catastrophic explosion that occurred on the 4th of August 2020 was classified as a crime against humanity, or care that its repercussions continue to affect the lives and livelihoods of the Lebanese until today…Worse still, the persistence of these “immunities” would prevent any real accountability for the regime of corruption and murder that has plundered, impoverished, starved, and covered up the hijacking of the state, Lebanon’s dependence and its isolation from its Arab fold, and the violations of sovereignty and the constitution.

Investigative Judge Tarek Bitar made a courageous and exceptional decision, raising the accusations of “possible intent to murder” and misdemeanor “negligence and omission” against the entire political, administrative military, security, and even judiciary of the “sectarian quota system” responsible for the crime that took place on August 4th. Those in the first group of the cluster of accusations raised are those suspected of involvement in grave negligence, and according to reports, they knew the magnitude of the danger and overlooked it!

This group includes caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, as well as former ministers and including three current MPs: Ali Hassan Khalil, Nouhad Al-Machnouk., Ghazi Zaiter, and Youssef Fenianos. Following standard procedure, the Parliament was asked to strip the defendants of immunity, and permission was duly asked to prosecute some current and former senior security leaders, including Major General Tony Saliba, –the head of the State Security Apparatus, and Major General Abbas Ibrahim, Director General of General Security. This prosecution is the first of its kind in the history of the republic, as it was among the largest non-nuclear blasts in the world outside of nuclear explosions. This forcefully initiated the battle to do away with “immunities,’ through which those in power are protected, a battle in which victory requires the unity of citizens to defend the right of all Lebanese to justice.

At first glance, it seemed that the ruling regime was taken by surprise, and after success in removing former Investigative Judge Fadi Sawan, they believed that Sawan’s replacement would not address “immunities” and would instead focus on some aspects of security and neglect! Therefore, the ostensible responsiveness shown by some of the defendants, as well as the positivity attributed to Speaker Berri regarding the judicial decision, seemed to be conditioned by an underlying desire to absorb the shock caused by the investigative judge, awaiting a different vision to crystallize in response to the decision. Soon after, a toxic campaign entirely based on fabricated arguments was launched and attributed first to a “judicial authority” and then to a “legal authority.” It is as if those charged and being criticized are themselves the judicial authority on which Judge Bitar should rely, but Bitar was not drawn into this trap of rhetoric and media statements.

In this context, it is noticeable that Hezbollah intervened early this time on the prosecution. Previously, the Secretary-General of the party, Hassan Nasrallah, publicly demanded that the results of the first investigation that was conducted by the security services be adopted, under the pretext that the investigation opens the door for insurance companies to demand compensation for the insurers! On February 16th, he said that the judicial investigator should “correct the course of action in the investigation,” and that Sawan’s method was “dubious. The conclusion of the campaign at that time was that, only two days later, Judge Sawan was removed by a majority decision by the Court of Cassation on the grounds of “legitimate suspicion.” Moreover, last Monday, at a time when the defendants had only just learned of the status of the prosecution, Nasrallah reiterated the “advice” he had given to Judge Bitar, that the “technical casefile and the technical investigation into this horrific incident” be taken up under the weight of suspicion and accusation: “Is there real judicial work, or is there political targeting?”

This development, which came 11 months after the crime and seeped to the core of the Lebanese and residents of Beirut in particular, has but one explanation. A conviction may have taken shape on the part of the judicial authority that the defendants know which party brought the shipment of death to Beirut, who are their partners, how thousands of tons of Ammonium Nitrate were smuggled from Hangar 12, whether there are other warehouses of death in Lebanon, and where they are. Moreover, it would reveal the truth of what Walid Jumblatt has stated; that these dangerous materials were transported to Syria and used in barrel bombs thrown over the heads of Syrians!

The story of “immunities” in Lebanon is a very old one. Its first sign was the imposition by the occupying Syrian regime of the amnesty law for all war crimes on August 26th, 1991. For all war crimes without taking into account any of the rights of victims over 15 years of civil fighting. The priority of uncovering the fates of nearly 17,000 abductees was not considered, and their families continue to ask about their fates today. This law favored the militia leaders who seized power under the auspices of Syria, transforming them from individuals accused of major crimes into infallible sectarian leaders who operate above the law. Since that time, “immunities” have become the norm, and “special courts” have been required, along with protections through legal amendments upon request, until the page of accountability was completely turned and transparency became absent, with the state continuing to be voided and weakened to facilitate its hijacking, such that former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is quoted as saying: “Corruption is legitimized by law!” Laws were tailor-made for the leaders of the ruling mafia, and the outcome is known to all Lebanese and seen across the world. After the embezzlement of public and private funds, no member of the ruling regime has been accused, in a government established on the surplus power of the “statelet,” a government so corrupt it is being boycotted by the world. However, it remains at the helm and a hindrance to the Lebanese.

Today, more than 70% of Lebanese families find it difficult to secure their basic needs, and after the Lebanese Lira lost 99% of its purchasing power, a recent UNICEF report says that 30% of Lebanon’s children sleep without dinner. Despite all of these challenges, the parliament continues to issue laws that prevent any future prosecutions and also prevent any calls for the restoration of the rights that had been withheld! An example of this is a new law for the recovery of embezzled funds, which included hybrid formulas stipulating that any party intending to make a claim based on suspicion of illegitimate wealth-gathering must prove in advance that the funds under suspicion had been embezzled. Otherwise, the claim is stricken, and the claimant is fined! Even the directives of the Central Bank went beyond the limits of the law, as they protect the banking cartel from any future prosecutions!

The Lebanese are facing a challenge today, one of solidarity within the ruling elite and their attempts to circumvent the allegations issued by Judge Bitar –especially his demand to lift “immunities.” More importantly, on the eve of the first anniversary of the port bombing, the continuation of protections, in their various forms, perpetuates impunity and closes many doors through which the Lebanese regime of corruption can be held accountable for all of its crimes, not just the case of the Beirut port blast.

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