‘Listen to our pleas’: Beirut blast victims demand global support

Rights groups and families have praised lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar for not caving in to political pressure, and setting precedent for a strong independent judiciary in Lebanon, a country marred by corruption, nepotism, and a strangled justice system.

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

Khoury and other families now point 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 endorsed this for more than a year. They say it will provide Bitar with additional resources and push against ongoing obstructions.

“I support the judge with all my strength, and with every drop of my brother’s blood that was spilled,” said Rima Zahed, whose brother Amin, 42, was also killed in the explosion. “International support would work in parallel with the local investigation.”

‘Kill the investigation’

The explosion on August 4, 2020, rocked the Lebanese capital after a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated. It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. More than 200 people were killed, 6,500 injured, and entire neighbourhoods destroyed. No officials have been convicted yet.

A year-and-a-half after the devastating explosion, a handful of senior politicians Bitar charged with criminal negligence refuse to show up for interrogations, while security agencies have declined to implement arrest warrants.

Officials have continuously tried to dismiss Bitar from the probe by filing legal complaints, which have sometimes temporarily suspended the investigation.

In addition, activists, journalists and lawyers have accused the government of misinformation and a “political campaign” to delegitimise Bitar’s investigation through its politically affiliated media outlets.

Legal analysts have told Al Jazeera the goal is to stall – and eventually kill – the investigation.

Following the blast, the United States’ FBI and French judiciary conducted inquiries that were inconclusive.

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