Wor­ries as Metn dump ver­dict draws near: ac­tivists

Plain­tiffs im­plore judge to shut Burj Ham­moud land­fill un­til rul­ing an­nounced

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Vic­to­ria Yan and Emily Lewis

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.

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