Lebanon’s Missing Offer Little Hope for Beirut Blast Victims

Myriam Sweidan
Lebanese Journalist
Lebanon finally installed a national commission to deal with the many thousands of missing and forcibly disappeared during the Civil War. It was hardly up and running before half its members resigned …

“We don’t have anything left, they’ve even taken our hope,” said Wafaa Fayyad bitterly. “They say truth always wins. Except in Lebanon. Here the truth dies. Do you want me to say that there is hope? The same will happen with this case like all the other justified cases in the country… they die.”

Wafaa Fayyad has carried a heavy burden ever since 1989, the year in which she lost her brother Abbas Fayyad.

Consequently, waiting has been Wafa’s friend for over 30 years.

She remembers the day well, the day Abbas disappeared at the age of 24. She remembers waiting for him till dawn, the confusion among family and friends, and her mother’s prayers.

The waiting kept getting longer, and she’s still living through it.“My mother died while waiting for him. Isn’t that unfair?” asked Wafaa. “This is no ordinary oppression. This is oppression to the point of death. It is a wound that never heals.”

“We are no longer waiting for those gone to return,” she continued. “We are waiting to know where they went. Where were they taken? Tell us, so at least we can pray for the dead. Now we aren’t even able to say: ‘May God have mercy.’ And we don’t know how to wait any longer. When someone is with you in full force and then suddenly disappears… Its just something that the mind can’t handle.”

Wafaa’s pain over her absent brother resembles that of so many people, who lost their parents or children in the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). All that remains are memories.

Wafaa looks at her brother’s pictures with nostalgia. She remembers her mother, who died with a longing in her heart to see her son. Her brother’s son, did not complete his first year when his father was taken from him. He himself is today a father of Juja, who never tires of asking questions about his grandfather’s features and characteristics.

Coordinated resignation

An estimated 17,000 people went missing or forcibly disappeared during the Civil War. In November, 2018, Lebanon finally passed the long-awaited Law for Missing and Forcibly Disappeared Persons in Lebanon, which in July 2020 was finally followed by the members of the Lebanon National Commission for the Missing and Forcibly Disappeared being sworn in.

Yet, today the commission is facing a serious attempt to prevent it from functioning due to the “coordinated” resignation of four of its members on the eve of its elections.

The resignation came without justification. It stemmed from people who are supposed to be defenders of the victims, as they are members of the Beirut and Tripoli Bar Syndicates, the Syndicates of Physicians in Beirut and Tripoli and the Supreme Judicial Council.

The collective resignation came shortly after the commission was finally completed in April with the appointment of Judge Salim al-Osta and forensic expert Hassan Fayyad Hussein as members, more than 10 months after the committee was first formed.

The issue brought the suffering of the families of the victims of the August 4 Beirut Port explosion to the fore, as the first year of the commemoration of the crime is approaching with so far not a single sign of holding the perpetrators accountable. Worse, there have been clear attempts to obscure the truth by excluding key figures from interrogation even when documents show a direct link to the crime.

This is most notably the case for Director General of Public Security Abbas Ibrahim, whose pictures fill many a billboard with texts such as: “With you, the noblest men” and “Loyalty to the brigade.”

The new main investigator into the August 4 explosion, Judge Tariq Al-Bitar, had requested permission to prosecute a number of politicians and military figures, including Ibrahim, who received sectarian and political cover from his direct entourage, as well as from Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who in his last speech said: “the summons are a form of political prosecution.”

Procrastination Repeated

After about a year of diluting the investigations, and not holding a single public official accountable, as the authorities prefer political and sectarian immunity over judicial accountability, Wadad Halawani, fears the families of the August 4 victims will face the same scenario as the families of the missing and kidnapped have encountered.

“I kept screaming that I don’t want any more missing people, I want a solution,” said Halawani, head of the Committee for the Families of the Missing and Kidnapped in Lebanon.

“I talked to the families of the victims. And every time I asked myself: how do I look them in the eyes? In their eyes, as in ours, a thousand unanswered questions remain. I can’t bear to see our experience repeated with other people.”

Wadad explained how the authorities weakened the file of the missing under the pretext that death and disappearance are part of war. Today, more than 30 years after the Civil War ended, the crime is repeated by the criminals themselves, who have weakened the already flimsy investigations. And, in turn, only deepened the never healing wound of the families of the missing.

After her husband went missing, Wadad established the association in 1982 with the sole aim of revealing the fate of the missing. She is still committed to her rights, not so much to justice and accountability, but above all to knowing the truth.

“They stole a part of our souls, from our bodies, from the pores of our skin,” she said. “You can’t give up the truth. I think truth is what is making us cling on.”She recounted some of the many stories of people who lost their children and are still waiting. Among them is Umm Aziz, who lost four of her family. She reached the point where she would say: “Give them back, even just one.”

Procrastination and dilution in the file of the missing persons explains the approach taken in most cases in Lebanon and signals the scenario in store for the families of the victims of the port explosion. As we approach the first anniversary of the crime, Minister of Interior Mohamed Fahmy promised to complete investigations within five days.

“We are not waiting for those gone to return, we are waiting to know where they went,” Wafaa Fayyad said.“I am not waiting for justice from this political class,” said Muhammad Iskandar after losing his relative Hamza in the port explosion. “My loss is that I lost Hamza. And this can never be compensated.”

The two scenes intersect, even if they are decades apart. Will the crime of the port explosion be a second crossing for those who escaped accountability in the Civil War only to tighten their political grip afterwards and commit a new crime against an entire city?

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