In the ‘culture of impunity’, Lebanese are still waiting for answers


NOS News

  • Daisy Mohr

    Middle East Correspondent

  • Daisy Mohr

    Middle East Correspondent

For two years, Mounir has come to the harbor every week to cry. He then weeps for the friends and more than 200 others who died here in the devastating explosion on August 4, 2020. “For me, this place is a symbol of what is wrong here. The corruption, the death and the lack of answers,” says he wipes the sweat from his forehead.

The summer temperatures recently caused the rotting grain in the harbor silos to catch fire. They have been on fire for two weeks. Last Sunday, part of the colossal building collapsed. A huge cloud of dust, possibly full of toxic substances, covered the city. The fire is still smoldering in the rest of the silos.

Clouds of black smoke hang over the harbor day and night. The switch off does not work. The cameras are lined up the moment the rest collapses. Experts say it could happen any time now.

It has been two years since Beirut was rocked by an explosion of unprecedented proportions. A look back:

Flashback: Beirut rocked by giant explosion

Talal lives a stone’s throw from the harbour. He and his family were seriously injured two years ago. His house was in ruins, they had to stay in one place for several months, he lost his job and his savings due to the economic crisis. The nightmare seems to have no end. “Now this again, silos on fire and collapsing. They tell us to keep windows and doors closed and wear masks. But we have almost no power. How are we supposed to breathe?”

“Our government can’t even make sure there is bread for sale in Lebanon,” says a furious Talal. “Do you think they could have handled this better? We’re dealing with a lucky government.”

He would have liked to see the grain silos rendered useless by the explosion demolished. “Just in a nice way. Well arranged. So we could have prevented this.”


Relative William: ‘Only when we get justice can they be torn down’

It is the relatives’ families who are strongly against the demolition. As long as they don’t have answers, they want the silos to remain. “We want people to remember forever the negligence and corruption of our state. When we get justice, they can be torn down,” said William Noun.

He lost his brother Joe, a firefighter, in the disaster. Along with other volunteers, Joe was one of the first to rush to the harbor fire. And then came the battle.

Since then, William’s life has been dominated by the search for answers. He wants to know how it is possible that almost 3000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in the port for years before it exploded and who is responsible. “We want the truth, it’s not about money. And of course we want everyone involved in this to be punished.”


William’s brother Joe was killed in the disaster

Abandoned by the Lebanese government and the international community, William has been fighting for justice for two years. He regularly walks the streets with other relatives of relatives. He was beaten several times by the police and the army. “I’ve been arrested six times now,” he chuckles. “This is a battle between the victims’ families and the political establishment.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Beirut is closely monitoring how those left behind are humiliated. At the human rights organisation, you also see how the political elite opposes the investigation in every possible way.

“No one has yet been held accountable,” said Aya Majzoub of HRW. “We have seen the domestic inquiry being undermined, delayed and hampered. It has now been suspended since last December.”

‘culture of impunity’

According to Majzoub, Lebanon has a culture of impunity. “There are politicians, high-ranking officials and security services who have escaped any responsibility for serious human rights violations. The entire system in Lebanon is built around the big interests of the established political parties and their protection.”

It has long been clear to her that Lebanese government agencies will not be able to come up with real answers on their own. She believes that there is an urgent need for help for an independent investigation, but HRW cannot get its hands on it in the international community.

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