Survivors, NGOs call for international probe into Beirut blast

Calls for a UN-led international investigation are multiplying as a Lebanese inquiry fails to deliver accountability.

Relatives of the Beirut blast victims demand justice for their relatives
Relatives of the Beirut blast victims demand justice for their relatives [File: AFP via Getty Images]

Human rights groups, survivors and relatives of victims of the Lebanon port blast are urging the United Nations to back an international, independent and impartial probe, bypassing a local probe that has yet to yield significant arrests or even identify a culprit.

A total of 145 signatories – including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – called on the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday to establish “an international, independent and impartial investigative mission, such as a one-year fact-finding mission”.

In a joint letter, the signatories argued that the domestic investigation has been repeatedly obstructed and “failed in meeting the benchmarks, based on international standards, that were laid out by the UN Special Procedures”.

The UN Special Procedures’ experts had issued a statement in August 2020 laying out benchmarks, based on international human rights standards, for a credible inquiry into the explosion.

“The failures of the domestic investigation to ensure accountability dramatically illustrates the larger culture of impunity for officials that has long been the case in Lebanon,” they said.

The letter follows a similar one sent by 115 rights groups, survivors, and families of the victims in June 2021.

The detonation of tonnes of ammonium nitrate on August 4, 2020, at Beirut Port was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. It killed at least 214 people, injured thousands and ravaged entire neighbourhoods.

A year on, many residents who lived around the port area remain in limbo, unable to rebuild their lost homes. It is estimated that 77,000 buildings were damaged in the blast.

Human Rights Watch and other organisations have said evidence suggests high-level government officials were aware of the significant threat to life posed by the ammonium nitrate and have hampered the progress of a local investigation.

A first lead investigator was removed by a court in February after he charged former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers with “negligence and causing death to hundreds”.

The second, judge Tarek Bitar, has also faced obstructions, including Parliament refusing to lift the immunity of former ministers – who are also lawmakers – so he could question them.

Bitar in August subpoenaed Diab for interrogation on September 20, but local media reported the ex-premier has flown to the United States to see his family.

Diab’s government resigned in the wake of the blast but remained in a caretaker capacity until this week when a new government finally took up its functions after 13 months of political wrangling.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies