As Lebanon solemnly commemorates the third anniversary of the catastrophic Beirut blast, the nation continues to grapple with unresolved questions surrounding the tragedy. The explosion, which occurred at the Beirut port in 2020, resulted in over 220 deaths and injuries of at least 6,500 people. The blast has left the city devastated and the victims’ families and survivors seeking answers.
In response to the ongoing lack of accountability, the main activist group representing families of the victims has organized a protest march this Friday afternoon, culminating at the port.
The march serves as a poignant reminder that, despite the passage of time, justice remains elusive for those affected by the blast. Families of the victims and survivors seek clarity regarding the events leading up to the explosion and the factors that contributed to its severity.
The incident was suspected to have been triggered by a fire at a warehouse containing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate. These chemicals had been at the port since 2013, having been unloaded during an unscheduled stop and left unclaimed due to a legal dispute over unpaid fees and defects. The amount that detonated was just a fifth of the 2,754 tons unloaded in 2013, raising suspicions about the fate of much of the cargo.
The explosion’s impact was far-reaching, sending a mushroom cloud over Beirut and being felt as far away as Cyprus, 250 km (155 miles). Reports suggest that several Lebanese officials, including then-President Michel Aoun and then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab, were aware of the dangerous cargo.
A 2021 report by Human Rights Watch pointed out that high-level security and government officials were aware of the significant threat to life but tacitly accepted the risks. The subsequent investigation faced several hurdles, with judges being removed for alleged bias or overstepping their powers, leaving the probe in limbo.
However, in early 2023, the second appointed judge was re-elected to resume his probe but very soon faced charges of exceeding his power, leading to the release of detained individuals and further delaying the probe. Frustrated by the lack of progress, victims turned to foreign courts for recourse.
Last year, some victims filed a $250 million claim in the United States against a company linked to the ship carrying the chemicals. And in June, a London court awarded nearly $1 million in damages to victims. But, the identity of the beneficial owner of a British-registered firm that had sold the chemicals remained undisclosed, leaving uncertainty about who would be held responsible.