VIDEO: Two years on, pain still raw for Villaggio victims’ relatives
Thirteen of those killed were small children, four were employees of the Gympanzee nursery, and two were firefighters trying to save everyone.
A year ago, following 17 court sessions that began in June 2012 and concluded in June 2013, a Doha court ruled that five people should be held responsible for those deaths.
That includes the owners of the nursery, the chairman and the manager of Villaggio Mall and a Ministry of Business and Trade official who signed Gympanzee’s commercial permit.
The defendants were ordered to serve five to six years in jail, and their insurance companies were told to pay QR200,000 in blood money for each victim who died.
But the case has stalled since then. The appellate process began in September 2013, and is proceeding at a glacial pace.
The next hearing will be on June 9, as more witnesses will appear for cross-examination. The victims’ families are not hopeful that any closure will be reached before the court recesses for the summer.
None of the convicted individuals have started serving jail time, and at least one of the defendants has been free to travel outside Qatar.
Only a few families have received the blood money. Due to the high expense of paying for a lawyer, along with the consistent delay in court hearings, many families have had to cease legal representation.
Meanwhile, Villaggio Mall appears to have returned to normal, bustling with activity and shoppers. A new extension is even planned for the facility, which continues to be run by the same management convicted of involuntary manslaughter for not ensuring the mall followed necessary safety precautions before the fire.
Two years later, Qatar’s ambassador to Belgium – the co-owner of Gympanzee – also retains his post as a diplomat, despite being ruled a convicted criminal by his country’s court system.
That so much has returned to normal, while the court case drags on and the grief remains so fresh, has prompted many relatives to say they feel like they’re losing the fight for justice.
Still, they have made it clear that they will continue to push for accountability.
For those who wish to mark the two-year anniversary, a short public memorial is taking place today at 4:30pm at Aspire Park in honor of those who died.
For an in-depth understanding of the Villaggio fire and its aftermath, download our 57-page ebook on the subject here.