Beirut, Lebanon: Amnesty International asked Lebanon on Wednesday to revoke the immunity of authorities summoned in the Beirut port bomb investigation, warning that failure to do so would be an “obstruction of justice.”
On August 4, last year, a massive stockpile of fertilizer at the port exploded, killing over 200 people, injuring hundreds, and destroying vast swaths of the capital.
Officials had known for years that the explosive chemical was being stored in a dangerous manner at the port, it was revealed later.
However, almost a year later, no one has been charged, and the victims’ families claim that political meddling has sabotaged the inquiry.
Tareq Bitar, the chief investigator, has asked for immunity to be revoked so that he can examine a key intelligence official and three former ministers involved in the investigation, but to no avail.
“We stand with these families in calling on Lebanese authorities to immediately lift all immunities granted to officials, regardless of their role or position,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Any refusal to do so obstructs justice and infringes on the victims’ and families’ rights to truth, justice, and restitution, Amnesty said.
Amnesty International’s appeal came after Lebanese police sprayed tear gas at protests outside the home of interim interior minister Mohammad Fahmi on Tuesday.
Fahmi turned down a request from the investigating judge to examine Abbas Ibrahim, the chief of the General Security Bureau, one of the country’s most powerful security organizations, earlier this month.
Parliament has indicated it needs more proof before waiving protection for three former ministers who are also parliamentarians, a claim that the main investigator has rejected, according to a judicial source.
Hundreds of relatives of the victims gathered outside Beirut’s main law courts on Wednesday afternoon to demand justice, holding up photos of their loved ones who had died.
After the port explosion, the government stepped down but has remained in a caretaker status for the past 11 months as political squabbling over the next cabinet’s composition continues.
Lebanon urgently requires a new administration to initiate changes in order to unlock help and save the country from one of the greatest economic crises the world has seen since the 1850s.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said he had given President Michel Aoun with a new cabinet “capable of preventing the collapse,” which the latter stated he would review.