(Beirut, September 15, 2021) – The member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should set up an international, independent and impartial fact-finding mission, such as a one-year fact-finding mission, into the explosion of the port of Beirut August 2020, 145 Lebanese and international human rights groups, Survivors and families of the victims announced today in a joint letter. This letter follows a similar letter sent by 115 human rights groups, survivors and families of the victims in June 2021.
More than a year after the explosion in the port of Beirut, no one was held accountable. The explosion damaged more than half of the city and killed at least 218 people, including nationals of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Pakistan, Palestine, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, France, Australia and the United States.
“The families of the victims and survivors of the catastrophic Beirut explosion again appeal to the Human Rights Council to urgently establish a fact-finding mission into the failure of the Lebanese state to protect their rights,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “More than a year after the explosion, Lebanese leaders continue to obstruct, delay and undermine the domestic investigation.”
In February, a court removed the investigative judge from the case after two former ministers he had indicted filed a complaint against him. Similarly, while Judge Tarek Bitar was appointed a day later, politicians and officials launched a campaign against him after he filed a motion to indict and summon senior politicians and security officials.
Government officials, including Acting Prime Minister Hassan Diab, have refused to appear and authorities have refused to lift immunity or allow members of parliament and senior security officials to be prosecuted. Political leaders tried to question Judge Bitar’s impartiality, accusing him of being politicized. In addition, Lebanese security forces have reacted on at least two occasions with violence against relatives of the Beirut victims who had peacefully mobilized against these obstacles.
“This violent response sends a chilling message of the authorities’ disdain for the judiciary and their refusal to give victims and their families effective access to the investigation process and to respect their rights to information and participation,” said Lynn Maalouf, Middle East Deputy Director and Director for North Africa at Amnesty International. “A year later, the gap between the domestic process and the standards set by UN experts last year couldn’t be more glaring.”
The explosion resulted from the ignition and detonation of tons of ammonium nitrate stored along with other flammable or explosive materials in a poorly secured hangar in the middle of a busy commercial and residential area of the densely populated city, in a manner contrary to international guidelines safe storage and handling of ammonium nitrate.
Human Rights Watch noted that the evidence strongly suggests that a number of senior military, security and government officials foresaw the significant threat to life posed by the port’s ammonium nitrate supplies and tacitly accepted the risk of death. This amounts to a violation of the right to life under international human rights law.
The right to life is an inalienable and autonomous right enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (IPCPR), which Lebanon ratified in 1972, stated that countries respect the right to life and oppose deprivation caused by Persons or organizations must guarantee, even if their behavior is not attributable to the state.
The Committee also states that “the duty to protect the right to life by law also obliges States parties to organize all state organs and governance structures through which public authority is exercised in such a way that the right to life is respected and guaranteed will. including through … investigating and prosecuting potential unlawful deprivation of life, imposing sentences and seeking full reparation. “
Investigations into violations of the right to life must be “independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent” and they should be “the legal responsibility of senior officials in relation to violations of the right to life by their subordinates.”
The domestic investigation’s failure to ensure accountability dramatically illustrates the broader culture of impunity for civil servants that has long been the case in Lebanon. The shameless obstruction of victims in seeking truth and justice by the authorities reinforces the need for an international investigation into the failure of the Lebanese state to protect the right to life.
An international investigation into the failure of the Lebanese state to protect the right to life would not hinder, but rather aid, the domestic process, the organizations said. The results of an international investigation, conducted in accordance with the highest international standards and best practices, may be useful to the Lebanese authorities investigating the explosion and to any national effort against anyone reasonably suspected of criminal liability Court.
In addition, the investigation would provide recommendations to Lebanon and the international community on what steps need to be taken to remedy the violations and ensure that they do not recur in the future.