Battling impunity and upholding freedom in Lebanon's broken justice system
On February 3, UMAM Documentation & Research, alongside the Lokman Slim Foundation and Dar Al-Jadeed, will observe the third anniversary of Lokman Slim’s untimely assassination. In an event titled “Justice for Lebanon, Justice for Lokman,” the spotlight will be on political assassinations, bringing attention to the pervasive impunity enveloping these crimes. The broader issue lies within Lebanon’s weakened justice system and the troubling absence of accountability.
On the night of February 3, 2021, around 8:30 p.m., Lokman Slim, a Lebanese political commentator, columnist, and activist, disappeared after leaving a friend’s home near Niha, south of Beirut, as reported by his wife, Monika Borgmann. The subsequent day brought the grim discovery of Slim’s lifeless body, shot dead in his car on a road between the southern Lebanese villages of Addousiyeh and Tefahta, according to news reports.
Slim, a prominent figure in political commentary, was recognized for his vocal opposition to the Shia political party and militant group Hezbollah.. In a statement made in December 2019, Slim explicitly pointed the finger at Hezbollah, holding them entirely accountable for the years of threats he had endured and anticipating any potential future attacks on himself or his family.
Despite the passage of three years, the state of Lebanon’s judiciary system still faces challenges, and the presence of injustice persists. Previous instances of political assassinations serve as poignant examples of the entrenched culture of impunity within the country. The commemoration of Lokman Slim’s anniversary serves as a timely reminder that, despite the difficulties, it is crucial to maintain dedication to the ongoing pursuit of justice in Lebanon.
Deadly culture of impunity
Lebanese journalist Ghinwa Yatim told NOW that keeping the memory of Slim alive is vital in light of the current carelessness of the Lebanese judiciary that still has not issued a charge.
“Lokman is one of many examples of how injustice still prevails in Lebanon. He was one of those who fought against it until, unfortunately, he became a victim. One should not stop believing that change can happen even if it’s slow,” Yatim said.
She considers that it is the duty of journalists, lawyers, and diplomats who believe in freedom of expression and who also have similar thoughts and beliefs to those of Lokman to participate in keeping his message alive.
“Men like Lokman don’t die due to natural reasons. They die fighting, and he chose to fight in his own way regardless of the consequences,” she added.
Yatim emphasizes the importance of informing and reminding the public about such cases, relaying that journalists can put pressure on the system, whether political or judicial.
“We also have an obligation to support families of victims during their fight for justice, especially when those in power try to intimidate them,” she said.
Lawyer Diala Chhade alongside Yatim and other journalists, lawyers and diplomats will be present at the event. Chhade told NOW that Slim offers an example of people who died trying to express their opinions freely in a country ruled by weapons and violence.
One way to fight this system is to spread these ideas that those in power aim to suppress.
“Even if justice hasn’t been served yet, there are relentless efforts pursuing justice for Lokman,” she said.
She notes that the state of the Lebanese judiciary has been precarious since even before the civil war. Serious accountability has been lacking in both political cases and those directly impacting public interest. According to her, this is largely due to the fact that those in power, shielded by persistent impunity, are often the perpetrators of such crimes.
Furthermore, she points out that politicians play a crucial role in appointing high-ranking officials in the judiciary, responsible for administering justice on behalf of the people. This, she argues, creates a conflict of interest and hampers the judiciary’s independence.
A clear solution to this situation is the establishment of an independent judiciary.
In a press conference organized by the Lebanese Coalition for the Independence of the Judiciary on March 28 2023, nine members of Lebanon’s parliament introduced two draft laws aiming to fortify the independence of judicial investigations and curb political interference with the judiciary.
However these draft laws are yet to be implemented.
An unjust and painful situation
On the other hand, Chhade points out that members of the judiciary were not immune to the effects of the Lebanese crisis, marked by the rapid devaluation of the local currency. This, she emphasizes, has had clear implications on their professional lives as they grapple with the challenges of making ends meet.
However, for the lawyer, there is no alternative but to continue the fight for justice.
“This is the natural choice for any citizen who wants to live in a state governed by law, not by militias where everyone is armed,” she said.
“We are advocating for a state that upholds the rule of law and provides equality to all its citizens. We can’t stop speaking out or cease our demands for this,” she added.
For Slim’s wife, Monika Borgmann, keeping Slim’s legacy alive is integral part of the pursuit of justice.
“If we don’t ask for justice for Lokman, and if we don’t ask for a real investigation in his assassination, then we are giving a green card to the killers to continue” she told NOW.
“The relentless demand for justice and honest investigations are vital aspects to ending the culture of impunity,” she says.
For her, Lebanon needs a sort of positive “earthquake” – the only positive earthquake can be justice and accountability. This extends to the prior victims of political assassinations, and also those who died in the August 4 explosion of 2020, in which no one was held accountable.
“It is our duty to keep their memories and questions of who killed them alive,” she said.
“If people are not talking anymore and if the families of the victims of the explosion do not protest in downtown anymore then surely people will forget and we can’t let this happen.”
However, when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, Borgmann says the situation is only getting worse in Lebanon, which is why it is vital to keep raising awareness and keep fighting for their protection.
“But it’s not only the third of February for me,” Borgmann said. ” It is every day. This is a fight against the culture of imp[unity and fighting for a democratic Lebanon. This was really what Lokman was doing. And we have to continue this battle.”