Beirut, Lebanon – Two long years have passed for the families of more than 200 people killed in Beirut Gate Explosionbut as the Lebanese investigation continues to be thwarted, the fight for justice may be evaporating amid new legal cases being launched from abroad.
Tania Dou-Alam and her husband Jean-Frederic Alam were attending an appointment at St George’s hospital, which overlooks the port of Beirut, on the evening of 4 August 2020, when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate caught fire in a port depot – leading to one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history.
Freddie, as Dou-Alam affectionately alludes to her husband, was killed instantly when the building’s glass shattered and threw them all over the room.
Dou-Alam told Al Jazeera: “When you lose your husband, your soulmate, it feels like losing your whole life.
Since the blast, which injured more than 7,000 people and destroyed much of the surrounding residential area, Dou-Alam and others whose family members were killed, have staunchly called for justice.
“It made me feel like I was doing something for Freddie, because we owe him, we owe them all truth and justice,” Dou-Alam said.
“This makes my life worth living because there was a time when I lost hope in everything; I was wondering why I was still here, we were sitting next to each other, then a few seconds later he was gone,” Dou-Alam said.
Evidence has emerged strongly that senior officials in the government and security forces were aware of the danger from ammonium nitrate stockpiles and tacitly accepted it. The reports also raise questions about the links between the officials and foreign trade and cast doubt on the companies’ claims regarding the transport of dangerous goods.
But the Lebanese investigation was thwarted by relentless political interferenceincluding the submission of more than 25 requests by Lebanese politicians to the dismissal of the judges leading the investigation, starting with Judge Fadi Sawan, who was sacked in February 2021.
His successor, Judge Tarek Bitar, has also faced similar pressure and legal challenges, which has put the investigation on hold since December last year. Bitar issued arrest warrants for several officials, although security forces did not act on them.
With no indication that a domestic investigation will be conducted anytime soon, a civil case was filed in the United States in mid-July by Switzerland-based organization Accountability Now. They are demanding $250 million in damages for the survivors and have also filed the case in the hope of uncovering new evidence that could advance the Lebanese and other international investigations.
Legal action seeking damages from Texas-based TGS, a US-Norwegian geophysical services consortium that owns British company Spectrum, which hired Moldova-flagged Rhosus to transport delivered ammonium nitrate in 2013 – supposedly for Mozambique.
Accountability, Now president and victim co-advisor Zina Wakim told Al Jazeera that the case focused on contracts signed between Spectrum and the Lebanese Ministry of Energy – especially in 2012 when Spectrum was signed. seismic data analysis contract, which requires truck vibration.
After performing their contractual obligations, the trucks needed to be transported from Beirut to Jordan, and to do so Rhosus was purposefully hired.
This was despite Rhosus – with a maximum capacity of 964 tonnes – carrying 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which was supposed to be destined for Mozambique and had no suitable ramps to load such 160-ton machinery.
Some investigations show that Rhosus – detained in the port of Beirut for months over a debt dispute and then safety concerns over its rickety state – was reported in danger of sinkingand the ship had to unload ammonium nitrate at the port in October 2014.
Lawyers and victims’ families say the complaint about the collection of the lorries was a conspiracy to bring ammonium nitrate to Beirut and load it there.
“It tripled its capacity when it got to Beirut… so it’s not clear why this boat was chartered to Lebanon under the guise of transporting seismic data machinery,” Wakim said.
In the case, individuals in Lebanon could be summoned for questioning in the United States, and if they failed to show up, they could be detained in court with the possibility of an arrest warrant.
“They won’t be able to evade international justice… they can refuse to appear but then they will have to stay in Lebanon like a golden cage until the wind turns,” Wakim said.
Freddie is an American citizen – since his two sons and Dou-Alam were both born in the US and she has a green card, she and the children can sign as plaintiffs in the TGS case.
Dou-Alam feels legal action in the US is a way for victims to be heard, as “there is a worldwide lack of concern about the explosion”.
Other relatives of the victim have also joined the lawsuit.
Sarah Copland – mother of two-year-old Isaac Oehlers, the youngest was killed in the boom – said this year has been especially difficult for her and her husband.
“[Now it’s] two years, it won’t be long until Isaac’s gone longer than he’s been with us, because he [only] Two years and three months old, so it was a huge thing that weighed heavily on my mind,” Copan told Al Jazeera.
Although Copland and her family live less than a mile from the port in 2020, Isaac was born in New York and has U.S. citizenship, so Copland feels obliged to join the Texas lawsuit as a plaintiff. petition on behalf of people in Lebanon. Recourse is the Lebanese domestic process.
The plaintiffs say the evidence clearly shows that Spectrum consciously participated or ignored the events that brought ammonium nitrate to the port of Beirut.
“It’s sloppy at best, at worst [there is a] Copland said.
“There is no money or anything that can make this better, but if damages are awarded, the idea is that a victim fund will be established, so it will not only benefit the plaintiffs in the case,” she said, adding it can help families focus on healing rather than surviving the day in the Lebanese context. unprecedented economic crisis.
TGS did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment, but has previously said that it denies all allegations in the lawsuit and intends to fight them in court.
Another major international lawsuit filed by the Beirut Bar Association earlier this year is continuing in the UK High Court of Justice involving Savaro Ltd, which is suspected of importing ammonium nitrate from the plant. chemical Georgia Rustavi Azot.
Savaro Ltd, which appears to be inactive now, has been given a September 20 deadline to disclose its still unclear ownership and, if it fails to comply, could file a court order against company, leading to criminal proceedings.
Al Jazeera could not be reached by Savaro Ltd for comment.
Meanwhile, there are also local prosecutions in France, Germany and the Netherlands related to the deaths of diplomats in the explosion, but also depends on the domestic investigation to reveal the findings. , advocates say these countries would also benefit from a separate United Nations. The Human Rights Council (HRC) fact-finding mission.
Lawyers and families of the victims have been calling for such an investigation since the explosion, but to no avail.
Urgent need for UN investigation
The UN then said it “supports calling for a prompt, objective, credible and independent investigation, based on human rights principles, to consider all claims, concerns and needs.” demand related to the explosion as well as fundamental human rights failures”.
But they did not initiate their own investigation, and justice advocates say their letter to the High Commissioner for Human Rights calling for a United Nations investigation has gone unanswered.
On the second anniversary of the explosion, survivors and families of those killed and a number of organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Global Legal Action, The Legal Agenda and the International Jurists Committee sent another letter to the UN HRC calling for an independent truth – seeking a mission to Lebanon.
Global Legal Action Executive Director Antonia Mulvey told Al Jazeera that the resolution should be included in the UNHRC at its next session in September because of the “utter failure” of the domestic investigation.
But as Human Rights Watch shown At the beginning of July, France was a barrier to introducing a resolution in the HRC as President Emmanuel Macron did not want to take the lead and most member states looked to Paris to do so considering the relationship. the country’s history with Lebanon.
“It’s a shame that member states still haven’t taken this as a resolution, it’s clearly a human rights issue, the basis of human rights is the right to life,” Mulvey said.
France’s stance has been a sore point for families, considering Macron arrived in Lebanon two days after the explosion promising to help the Lebanese people in the absence of a government, and personally calling for a “call an international, open, transparent investigation” into the causes of such destruction.
“It’s important that President Macron stick to his initial statements, demanding an independent and fair investigation,” Mulvey said. “France must listen to the call of the victims.”
As a mother who had her son arrested in a split second, Copland felt extremely frustrated that the United Nations’ call for an investigation was still being ignored.
“As long as I don’t have Isaac, our lives will always have a huge hole, but how much I think [we] it means expending energy to fight for justice [we] Copland said.
Dou-Alam is confident that justice will soon be resolved, only because all the victims’ families bravely and courageously stood up to retribution.
“Whenever you have evidence and you have people willing to fight, justice will come, even if it doesn’t happen quickly, it will,” she said.