Lebanon crisis

One month on: Lokman Slim assassination investigation yields little results

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"No Fear."

This was the call made by those attending the funeral of Lokman Slim, an intellectual and Hezbollah critic, assassinated just a week prior, during a trip to the south of Lebanon. Following his killing, the international community was quick to condemn the act as well as call for justice and an investigation to hold those responsible accountable.

"We will push for what is just," US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea told the congregation at the funeral. "We will join you in demanding accountability for this horrific crime."

"We want and need a transparent investigation and an end to impunity," German Ambassador Andreas Kindl stated.

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Lebanese authorities also came out and promised a swift and thorough investigation into Slim's murder.

However, a month after his death, the investigation, has yielded little information, validating concerns by the family and activists that there will be no justice.

An investigation in name only

On February 4, Lokman Slim was found dead in his car with multiple bullet lodged around his body.

When news of his disappearance broke, activists and friends of Slim, while attempting to stay hopeful that he would turn up, anticipated the worst.

"I was hoping that he would have [only] been kidnapped or he would have had a simple accident," Makram Rabah, a lecturer in history at the American University of Beirut, told Al-Arabiya English. "But when I got his picture, when he was in his car swimming in his blood, this is something that I dreaded but ultimately was expecting."

While Lebanese authorities promised that there would be an investigation, and those responsible would be held accountable, few in Lebanon believed that this would happen.

"We said it in the few hours following the discovery of his body, the assassination, that we do not expect anything going properly on the side of the investigation," Ayman Mhanna, the executive director of the Samir Kassir Foundation, told Al-Arabiya English. "It is exactly what we predicted, the fact that there would be claims about an ongoing investigation but that nobody would actually take it seriously among security forces and the judiciary because they have never done it in the past, and it's as if political assassinations in Lebanon enjoy a level of impunity and enjoy a level of protection."

US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea speaks during a gathering to pay tribute for lokman Slim. (File photo: Reuters)
US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea speaks during a gathering to pay tribute for lokman Slim. (File photo: Reuters)

Slim's family has said that they are cooperating with Lebanese authorities with their investigation. Previous reports stated that they were demanding an international investigation, but the family clarified this in a statement to the National News Agency.

"Saying an international investigation means demanding an investigation that would raise its efficiency and professionalism to the level of international investigations," the statement said.

When asked about the investigation, the family's lawyer, Moussa Khoury, told Al-Arabiya English that, "there is not much to say at this stage" and that "the police are continuing its investigation which, by law, is to be kept secret until it's finished." He added that he did not want to risk negatively affecting the results by commenting further.

Others, though, have been vocal in their criticisms of the investigation. Rabah considers the talk by Lebanese authorities about an investigation as a "lie," with Mhanna arguing that the judiciary and security forces are trying to not "rock the boat" with a serious investigation, perpetuating Lebanon's long history of impunity.

"All this talk about an investigation and getting to the bottom of it is all absurd," Rabah said. "One month into the killing of Lokman now and nothing new has popped up."

Mhanna noted that Slim's assassination is just like the dozens of others since the end of the civil war and that everything is happening just like all the others, only with a different name.

"You can remove Lokman Slim's name and replace it with almost any of the other figures who were killed, murdered, in Lebanon, and you just change the date and everything else stands," he explained. "The combination statements from the different political parties in Lebanon and the international community and then we go back to normal and assassinations happen again."

According to Mhanna, why there is never any justice or accountability for assassinations in Lebanon is due to the country's history of impunity.

Preventing justice

Since the end of the civil war, Lebanon has seen a culture of impunity grow, with those guilty of committing assassinations never held accountable. Announcements of investigations, in most cases, never begin.

"If you look at the assassinations in 'peace time', it's always the powerful forces that enjoy a wide and unchecked intelligence operation in the country with access to weapons and the guarantee of impunity on who will conduct assassinations," Mhanna said.

Rabah agreed with Mhanna and argues that those who commit these sorts of crimes do it because they know, "that they can get away with it."

A major reason for this impunity is the Lebanese judiciary system's framework.

The political elite are the ones who choose the people who fill empty seats in the judiciary with those chosen often being selected for what they can do for the party and not whether they hold proper job experience and qualifications.

Mhanna also argues that even if authorities wanted to seriously investigate and prosecute someone for an assassination, it could put them in a position where they are fighting against the system, putting them in danger.

"Law enforcement authorities and the judiciary know who actually runs the show," he explained. "And investigating might mean falling into an antagonistic position towards the people who run the show and, without any political cover, it's a very risky business for them.”

Another factor that helps to continue the culture of impunity is the elite exploiting their political positions to help each other.

When outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab, former finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil and former public works ministers Youssef Finianos and Ghazi Zeaiter were charged with negligence for the August 4 Beirut Port explosion by the previous investigator, Judge Fadi Sawan, they refused to officially questioned. By doing so, they put themselves at risk of being arrested for their non-compliance.

However, outgoing interior minister Mohammad Fahmi stated that he would not send security forces to uphold arrest warrants issued for the four politicians.

"I would not order the security agencies to implement such a legal decision, and let them pursue me if they wish," he told al-Jamhouria.

Mhanna has openly expressed criticism of the security forces and their lack of willingness to investigate assassinations, but still use funding and technology sent from the international community to target journalists and activists.

"It's actually a message sent to the international community that has been helping Lebanon that technology alone and funding alone are not enough if there is no political will to establish good governance in Lebanon," he said. "This is exactly the same when it comes to the support for the judiciary or the security forces to maintain law and order in Lebanon and to protect human rights and the rule of law."

Lokman Slim speaks during an interview, in a still image taken from a Reuters interview on February 2, 2009, in Beirut, Lebanon. (File photo: Reuters)
Lokman Slim speaks during an interview, in a still image taken from a Reuters interview on February 2, 2009, in Beirut, Lebanon. (File photo: Reuters)

No fear

Despite Slim's assassination causing concern in Lebanon about another wave of assassinations, activists have expressed outrage over the killing and are refusing to be silenced.

"Certainly, the people that killed Lokman wanted people to stay quiet. Actually, in the first couple of days it did achieve this," Rabah said. "But because the country is in shambles and because there is no way out of this predicament except by standing up to this corrupt junta and corrupt militia which protects this corrupt political class, the only way out of this is confrontation."

Rabah says that Slim's death is not going to silence him or make him live in fear. Rather, he explained that this is only going to serve to embolden him and make him louder than ever before.

"Although Lokman in dead, his words still resonate. Most importantly zero fear," he stated.

For Mhanna, the need for political will to investigate assassinations, regardless of concerns that it could upset the ruling class is vital. Without this political will, he argues, then there will never be any accountability.

"For justice to happen, you need something more than international and local [assistance]," Mhanna explained. "You need a political will to hold the perpetrators accountable and the absence of that political will, you will end up with a case similar to what we saw with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon where a ruling was made but justice was not served."

While activists continue to call for justice and accountability in Lebanon, Slim's family is forced to sit and wait for the results of an investigation that may never come.

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