Lebanon’s caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najem says there is ample reason to distrust Lebanon’s judiciary, but last week’s Beirut explosion is a “chance” for this vital institution to earn public trust by holding those responsible accountable.
The 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that blew up on August 4 were kept at Beirut’s port for nearly seven years with the eventual knowledge of many top political and security officials – yet nothing was done to prevent such a disaster from happening.
Those who have called for an international investigation include French President Emmanuel Macron and prominent rights groups, as well as many survivors and relatives of the victims.
“We’re not in a position today that allows us to give a chance to the judiciary,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of research, told Al Jazeera.
“When you look at the judiciary’s track record in the past with regards to justice in general and all the grave violations the Lebanese people have endured, there’s just no trust with something of this magnitude.”
Najem countered: “My starting point is always the Lebanese judiciary because I don’t want to create a system where every time there is an important issue I go to the international. We can use international experts but my role is to try to improve the judiciary here.”
Many have cast doubt on the ability of the country’s weak judicial authorities to carry out a full and transparent investigation into the devastating explosion that killed more than 170 people and wounded some 6,000 others. Dozens are still missing.
“Much of the criticism is warranted due to the slow pace of work and some politicisation, but this case is a chance for the Lebanese judiciary to prove they can do their jobs and win back the confidence of the people,” Najem told Al Jazeera.
Public pressure and the international coverage of the explosion would also likely push matters in the right direction, she said.
“It’s going to be hard for them to do things like they were done in the past.”