Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanese Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najem says there are many reasons for distrust of Lebanon’s judiciary, but last week’s Beirut explosion was a “chance” for this important institution to gain. public trust by holding responsible people accountable.
Many doubted the country’s weak judiciary’s ability to conduct a full and transparent investigation of the horrifying blast that left more than 170 people dead and about 6,000 more injured. Dozens of people are still missing.
Najem told Al Jazeera: “Most of the criticism came from slow work progress and some politicization, but the case is an opportunity for the Lebanese judiciary to prove they can. do your thing and regain people̵7;s confidence.
Public pressure and international coverage of the explosion would also push matters in the right direction, she said.
“It’s going to be difficult for them to do the same things they used to do in the past.”
2,750 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate on August 4 were stored at the port of Beirut for almost seven years with the knowledge of many top political and security officials – but nothing has been done to stop Prevent such disasters from happening.
Those who have called for an international investigation include French President Emmanuel Macron and prominent human rights groups, as well as many survivors and relatives of the victims.
“We are not in a position today to allow us to give opportunities to the judiciary,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s director of Middle East studies, told Al Jazeera.
“When you look at past judiciary track records regarding justice in general and all the serious offenses that Lebanese people have suffered, nothing is credible with one. something of this caliber. “
“My starting point has always been the Lebanese judiciary, because I don’t want to create a system where whenever there is an important problem I go international again. We can use experts,” Najem argued. But my role is to try to improve the judiciary here. “
The investigation invited international experts, especially French police officers and forensic experts, to investigate the location of the blast, Najem said.
The French prosecutor’s involvement, she said, was due to the existence of casualties in France, she said, giving the investigation an international perspective. French Ambassador Bruno Foucher, in a tweet, went so far as to call the French participation “an assurance of fairness in investigations and speed”.
Initial investigations were conducted under a military tribunal, and 19 people were arrested, including current and former customs chiefs and the head of the port administration of Beirut.
The judiciary will question the four former ministers of justice – nominally in charge of port oversight – on Friday.
In the final session before Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced his resignation on Monday, the cabinet moved the investigation to the judicial council.
The Council is the highest court in Lebanon, devoted to cases believed to affect national security, such as the assassination of former president-elect Bashir Gemayel in the country’s 1975-90 civil war.
Maalouf argued that the court “lacked transparency and ability to follow the judicial process”.
While Najem had proposed a name to a judicial investigator at the council who would take over the investigation after being appointed, the country’s senior Defense Council rejected her selection on Wednesday without giving a public explanation.
At the time of publication, no enumerator was selected yet.
Najem says there are two forms of responsibility in the case, political and legal.
“We fulfill our political responsibility by resigning,” she said. “It is the legal responsibility to indicate who should do something about it, who is supposed to stop it, not who knows about it.”
Her ministry was informed of the presence of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of Beirut on July 27 – just over a week before the explosion occurred. But Najem says she is not responsible – her ministry does not care about the matter as a dangerous goods case has already been brought to the Lebanese court.
“My intervention is not within my jurisdiction,” she said.
Najem adds that she understands that people want more than accountability; that they wanted revenge from top officials who knew the explosive materials – used in bombs and fertilizers – had been there for years but did not act.
But she says energy should be focused on first holding people legally accountable, then changing the country’s bureaucracy, public administration – and finally the political system. let those disasters happen.
“Where this case will ultimately go, no one will know,” she said. “The only thing I can say today, as Attorney General, is I want justice to be done. I want the truth to be told to the people of Lebanon and I want the responsible people to pay the price. for it.
“Not for revenge, but legally – just like in any other country in the world.”