On the anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament is in favour of lifting the immunity of all politicians

Lebanon proposes lifting immunity for parliamentarians

PHOTO/REUTERS - Lebanese demonstrators

The first anniversary of the explosion in the port of Beirut which caused the death of 200 people and injured more than 5,000 is approaching. On 4 August, 365 days will have passed since the incident and the causes of the explosion remain unclear. The explosion led to the resignation of Hasan Diab's government and triggered a political debacle in Lebanon that still does not seem to have been resolved.

On 15 July, the now former prime minister, Saad Hariri, who was in charge of forming a government after the resignation of Diab's government en bloc, resigned when he was unable to appoint a cabinet after more than 11 months. The new figure in charge of carrying out this practically impossible mission in the Mediterranean country is the Sunni businessman Najib Mikati, who was appointed as the new prime minister on 26 July.


During his first interview after being elected to the post, Mikati referred to the explosion in the port of Beirut, which he described as a "disaster", and said that they wanted to "know the truth about who brought the ammonium nitrate". He also expressed confidence in Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the official investigation into the explosion, of whom he said "he is a man of conscience".

One of the main stumbling blocks to proceeding with the investigation into the Beirut port detonation is the immunity of parliamentarians. Earlier this month, the judge handling the case requested authorisation to investigate members of parliament and senior security officials, including MP and former economy minister Ali Hasan Khalil, MP and former public works minister Ghazi Zeaiter, MP and former interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, director of the General Security Directorate Abbas Ibrahim and director of state security General Tony Saliba, in connection with the blast.


However, acting Interior Minister Mohamad Fahmi denied the judge's request, prompting the families of the victims to hold weekly protests every week since then in favour of an impartial and effective investigation. One year on, the Lebanese still do not have answers to what happened on 4 August when two explosions occurred in the busy port of the Lebanese capital.

With the anniversary of the explosion looming on Wednesday, the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berry, has called for the lifting of immunity for all politicians, including those indicted by the judiciary in the investigation into the port incident. Berry has backed a draft constitutional amendment submitted by former Lebanese Prime Minister and Future Movement party leader Saad Hariri.


The Hariri-led party has begun consultations with the various parliamentary groups to gain their support. Berry, for his part, announced that his party is prepared to vote in favour of lifting immunities "without exception, including that of the judges who had the ammonium nitrate file in their hands until the time of the explosion".

Samis Jisr, Future Movement MP for Tripoli, explained that "the bill drafted by his party aims, first of all, to put an end to the controversy surrounding the fact that the Constitution protected MPs and officials" by keeping them safe from prosecution. "If this case follows its current course, we will be faced with three instances that will resolve the case: the High Court to try presidents and ministers, a special body to try magistrates and the Court of Justice," Jisr said. "We believe that people are equal, and that all (defendants) should be tried before the Court of Justice," the MP was quoted as saying by Lebanese media L'Orient Le Jour.


However, the party led by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movement, has not been in favour of this initiative. Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of parliament for this party, has indicated that they are against the draft constitutional amendment presented by Hariri as they consider that "immunities should be lifted by a vote in parliament, without amending the constitution".

One year after one of the most powerful non-nuclear man-made explosions in human history, the Lebanese population still has not received any response from the authorities.