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Where’s the Accountability for the Beirut Blast?

Nearly Six Months Later, Victims Still Await Answers

Aftermath of the explosion in Beirut’s port that devastated the city, killing more than 200 people, injuring more than 6,000, and leaving 300,000 people without shelter. © 2020 Marwan Naamani / AP Images

Yesterday, in the late afternoon, as I was wrapping up a conference call with a colleague, I started to feel small vibrations and my desk began to wobble. An earthquake, I thought. We experience them from time to time in Lebanon, and normally such a tremble would not warrant more attention than the moments it lasts.

But there is nothing normal about the times we are living in Lebanon.

On August 4, sitting in my son’s room as I nursed him, the same thought crossed my mind. Earthquake. But it wasn’t. In the moments that followed, my husband rushed towards us carrying our daughter, using his body to shield us from the explosion that his years growing up in Lebanon’s civil war taught him to see coming.

I’ve spent a decade documenting war crimes in conflicts around the world, but never have I experienced or reported on a blast so instantaneously devastating. Beirut made history again for all the wrong reasons.

And now, nearly six months after the blast, even for those of us “lucky” enough to have emerged unscathed, the events of that day haunt us. More than 200 people were killed in the blast, thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands lost their homes and businesses. These are not just numbers - these are our friends, our family, our community.

By leaving us without answers, without justice, the government has left this wound open. I am not alone in worrying it could happen again. In the weeks following the blast we were terrorized by not one, but two, fires at the port.

We want answers. Who is responsible for this? How can we keep it from happening again?

Even though senior Lebanese political and security officials knew about the ammonium nitrate haphazardly stored in Beirut’s port, no one has been held accountable. Instead, a domestic investigation riddled with due process violations and allegations of political interference suffers delay after delay. If we are to have our answers, we cannot rely on the hope of domestic prosecutions alone.

This is why families of victims, and groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called for an international investigation into the blast. Time has moved on, but for the victims of the blast, we cannot begin to until there is an honest reckoning of what happened on that day.

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