Lebanon was already in crisis when a huge explosion devastated Beirut in 2020, so what kind of recovery is possible?
A group of international and regional rights groups have urged the UN Human Rights Council to launch an investigative mission into last year’s massive deadly blast at Beirut Port that killed 211 people.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the call was made in a joint letter by “53 Lebanese, regional, and international groups and individuals, as well as 62 survivors and families of the victims”.
HRW said it had documented many flaws in the domestic investigation of the explosion, including flagrant political interference, lack of respect for fair trial standards and violations of due process.
Nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – a highly explosive material used in fertilisers – had been improperly stored at the port for years. The chemicals ignited in a catastrophic August blast that, in addition to the 211 killed, injured more than 6,000 people and damaged entire neighbourhoods.
“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,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The families of those who died, the thousands of people who were injured and harmed, and the hundreds of thousands who had their lives upended and rights to housing, health, and property violated deserve nothing less,” added Maalouf.
It remains unknown what triggered an initial warehouse fire that caused the explosion and who was responsible for storing the decomposing fertiliser since 2014.
The #BeirutBlast was not an isolated or idiosyncratic incident. Rather, it was one highly dramatic illustration of the human rights impacts of decades of corruption, incompetence, impunity, and mismanagement by #Lebanon’s ruling elite.https://t.co/nktpR3rwes
— Aya Majzoub (@Aya_Majzoub) June 15, 2021
“Lebanese authorities have had over 10 months to demonstrate that they are willing and capable of conducting a credible investigation,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW. “But they have failed on all accounts.”
Six days after the blast, the Lebanese government referred the Beirut explosion to the country’s Judicial Council, a special court with no appeals process. No indictments have been issued so far.
In December, the prosecutor probing the blast filed charges against the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, and three former ministers, accusing them of negligence that led to the deaths of hundreds of people.
Two months later, the judge in the probe was replaced following legal challenges by two former cabinet ministers he had accused of negligence.