Human rights groups call on UN to investigate massive Beirut port explosion

Amnesty says Lebanese authorities have ‘obstructed, evaded and delayed ongoing domestic investigation’

 The devastating explosion in the Lebanese port of Beirut   on August 4th, 2020.  Photographs: Moufac Harb/AFP/Getty Images

The devastating explosion in the Lebanese port of Beirut on August 4th, 2020. Photographs: Moufac Harb/AFP/Getty Images

 

International, regional and Lebanese human rights groups have called on the UN Human Right Council to dispatch a commission to investigate last year’s massive Beirut port explosion. The appeal is contained in a joint letter to the council signed by 53 organisations and 62 survivors and victims’ families.

The planet’s largest blast since the US dropped nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second World War killed 211, wounded 6,000, and devastated the port and adjacent residential areas on August 4th last year.

“Despite initial pledges to conduct an investigation and announce results ‘within five days’, over the past 10 months the Lebanese authorities have obstructed, evaded, and delayed the ongoing domestic investigation,” said Amnesty International.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have joined with Lebanese bodies to uncover “a range of procedural and systemic flaws which prevent Lebanon from meeting its international obligations to provide redress to victims”, Amnesty said.

“These include flagrant political interference, a lack of respect for fair trial standards, and due process violations as well as immunity for high-level political officials.”

Amnesty’s deputy regional director Lynn Maalouf said: “The Beirut blast was a tragedy of historic proportions, arising from the government’s failure to protect the most basic of rights – the right to life.”

She argued that the commission should “identify whether conduct by the state caused or contributed to unlawful deaths, and what steps need to be taken to ensure” remedies for victims.

Human Rights Watch local researcher Aya Majzoub said the authorities had time “to demonstrate that they are willing and capable of conducting a credible investigation. But they have failed on all accounts”.

Political pressure

The blast was caused by 2,700 tonnes of highly volatile aluminium nitrate stored improperly with fireworks and paint in a poorly maintained port warehouse since 2014.

The Lebanese authorities have neither identified the trigger for the explosion nor those responsible for abandoning the material in the port.

Caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers were initially charged with negligence but the judge in charge was replaced due to political pressure.

Mr Diab’s government resigned at the end of August but has remained in office as politicians continue to squabble over cabinet posts, precipitating economic collapse and the impoverishment of half the population.

An unnamed military officer on Wednesday warned that the situation has negatively affected the morale of the army, Lebanon’s existential national institution, and the army command questions “its ability to deal” with the unstable situation. In March, army chief Joseph Aoun said soldiers were “suffering and hungry like the rest of the people”.

Thanks to his recent visit to Paris, France is convening a virtual fundraising conference on Thursday to provide emergency aid. The US has pledged $120 million (€99 million) for the army.