Worries as Metn dump verdict draws near: activists
Plaintiffs implore judge to shut Burj Hammoud landfill until ruling announced
BEIRUT: As a case aiming to shut down the controversial Burj Hammoud landfill draws to a close, plaintiffs worry legal considerations may be trumped by practical and political aims – keeping the dump open indefinitely.
Judge Ralph Kirkbi is expected to issue his verdict in early December, but if the landfill is indeed closed, where will the trash go?
“Judge Kirkbi had enough courage in the beginning [of the trial] to close the landfill after recommendations by experts,” said Hasan Bazzi, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “But garbage came back in the streets and politicians put lot of pressure on him [to reopen the dump].”
Another lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed efforts to close the landfill were likely futile since a solution to the issue is neither apparent nor in the government’s interest.
“In the case of Burj Hammoud, it’s likely that the judge sees no alternative [to the problem]. If he were to shut down the landfill, where would the trash go? What immediate solution would there be? This might persuade him to keep it open,” the lawyer said. “It’s normal for political figures to intervene in cases [like these].”
The lawsuit, originally filed by activists in 2016 and later supported by the Kataeb Party, targets the Council for Development and Reconstruction, Khoury Contracting and Al-Jihad for Commerce and Contracting, owned by Jihad alArab, for their management of the landfill. Ultimately, it asks that the site be closed down.
Throughout the trial, filed at Metn’s Court of Urgent Matters, the plaintiffs have implored the judge to close the landfill until a verdict is announced. They claim the site is illegally harming the environment.
“It’s our right. It’s the right of the affected people [to see the closure of the dump]. It is not the right of CDR, Jihad al-Arab and Khoury to continue destroying the environment,” said Samir Khalaf, a lawyer representing the Kataeb Party.
“They are both directly responsible for this damage and the violations of the Barcelona Agreement [forbidding the creation of coastal landfills on the Mediterranean] and Lebanese law.”
The defendants have a different point of view.
“It’s not a violation. The state has granted my client the project taking the [Barcelona] convention into consideration,” said Mona Habka, a lawyer representing Khoury Contracting.
Besides, she argued, “You’ve had garbage sitting in the area long before Khoury came to construct the landfill. There are over 30 factors contributing to the pollution, including sewage of municipalities being drained directly to the sea next to the landfill.”
Mona Kalout, on behalf of the CDR, declined to comment on the case since it is ongoing. JCC did not respond to requests for comment.
A HISTORY OF CHAOS
The Burj Hammoud landfill dates back to Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-90), when the site was used as an unofficial dump. With all sorts of trash piled haphazardly, the dump was better described as a mountain of trash.
Following the war’s end, the site continued to absorb waste from Beirut and its surrounding areas with the government’s approval.
Under current management, the already derelict condition of the site did not see significant improvement, which plaintiffs and activists content led to further damage.
Habka disagrees, saying that under Khoury Contracting’s management, the landfill meets international standards.
Nevertheless, the landfill has faced multiple closures following protests led by local citizens, civil society groups and various political parties, but none have been permanent since an alternative waste management plan has not been offered by the government.
The current lawsuit is not the first that has been filed with the intention of closing down the landfill, and if the site remains open, it likely won’t be the last.
SLOW TRACK IN FAST COURT
Despite its hearing before the Court of Urgent Matters, the case has seen a series of delays.
In most cases, a verdict in this court is delivered in a matter of days or weeks. Rarely will a case pend for several years, but depending on its complexity, certain delays may very well be justifiable.
According to Article 583 of the Lebanese Code of Civil Procedures, the judge of urgent matters is expected to rule on a case “without delay,” explained Elie Feghali, senior associate at Badri and Salim El Meouchi Law Firm.
“There are exceptions [to delays]. A judge of urgent matters might need to appoint an expert for technical expertise. This may take time depending on the complexity of the case. Also … all parties retain the right to comment on the reports provided by the experts, or any response submitted by the counterparty.”
According to Khalaf, the extended timeline of the case should also be blamed on the lack of respect for judicial orders and the court’s schedule. “The stakeholders who were called to the court weren’t coming,” he said, referring to the three defendants. “They keep stopping the trial for one reason or the other and the judge is accepting these requests to adjourn.”
But Habka, the defense lawyer, passed back the blame.
“After they filed this lawsuit with Judge Kirkbi, they filed two of the same lawsuit in other courts and in my opinion, this was an illegal act.”
The prosecuting lawyers, however, called this a strategic move they employed to highlight the urgency of the case.
Eventually, the second and third lawsuits sent to judges in Beirut and Metn’s Jdeideh were later consolidated in Kirkbi’s court, further delaying the case.
A FUTILE FIGHT?
While both lawyers for the plaintiffs are passionate about their cause, repeating their commitment to see the landfill’s closure, they acknowledged that the situation was an uphill battle.
With no clear path to a long-term waste-management system, the closure of Burj Hammoud would only reap chaos – an added headache for Lebanon, which has entered its sixth month without a government.
Still, “We trust in the judicial system and ask that it does not succumb to political interferences,” Bazzi said.
“[But] we are sad to see how political pressures have affected our case,” he lamented.
Should Kirkbi decide to keep the landfill open, Khalaf insisted the plaintiffs would appeal.
“Yes we can and we will. We will follow the case until the end of the court proceedings – even if it reaches the Court of Cassation. We won’t back down.”
Habka also expected to see the plaintiffs appeal should the verdict be ruled in his client’s favor.
“We’ll win, just as I have in my other cases.”
The Burj Hammoud landfill dates back to Lebanon’s 1975-90 Civil War when the site was used as an unofficial dump.