Beirut port blast victims demand UN investigation

Beirut port blast victims demand UN investigation
120 victims of the Beirut port explosion are requesting the UN intervene to support Lebanon's domestic investigation into what happened and who was responsible.
3 min read
14 March, 2022
Rights groups have condemned the Lebanese government's obstruction of the Beirut port blast investigation.

A group of 120 victims of the Beirut port blast sent a letter to the UN Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday requesting a UN fact-finding mission to assist Lebanon's domestic investigation after it failed to progress, 19 months after the deadly incident.

On 4 August 2020, a warehouse housing hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut port, killing over 250 and injuring 7,000. Though the then-government promised to find those responsible within days, not one person has been charged in connection with the blast until now.

The letter sent by the port blast victims asks that the UN commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, "dispatch investigators to prove human rights violations related to the Beirut Port Explosion."

It criticized the lack of results in the investigation as "another example of the corruption that prevails in Lebanon, which has brought the country to the precipice of collapse."

Rights groups have condemned the Lebanese government for its lack of action, and attempts to obstruct the port blast probe. The Lebanese government has used a variety of legal manoeuvres, including the invocation of parliamentary immunity, to shield those responsible from accountability.

The judge initially tasked with investigating the port blast was removed after he called in officials for questioning. His replacement, Judge Tarek Bitar, has had to halt his investigation multiple times due to legal obstruction by the officials he has called in for questioning.

Bitar has summoned prominent officials for questioning including former PM Hassan Diab, but almost all have failed to show. Despite issuing an arrest warrant for one official – former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan al-Khalil, Lebanon's police forces have thus far declined to execute it.

Beirut's government was paralyzed for over two months this fall after the duo of Hezbollah and the Amal movement refused join the meetings until the investigation was tabled. Both parties accuse Bitar of running a politicised investigation and implementing a "foreign agenda" – namely a US agenda.

Families of the port blast victims have largely held consistent in their demands for Bitar's investigation to continue, though a few members, most notably former spokesperson Ibrahim Hoteit, have since said that he has lost faith in the investigative judge.

The families have also condemned the Lebanese government's awarding of the container terminal to French shipping conglomerate CMA-CGM, saying that accountability should come before reconstruction.

"While others are able to move on and rebuild their lives the families … cannot move forward with their lives until they know how and why this was allowed to happen," said Antonia Mulvey, the executive director of Legal Action Worldwide which helped draft the letter.

Editors correction: The New Arab erroneously first reported that French shipping conglomerate CMA-CGM was awarded the contract for the "port reconstruction" of the Port of Beirut. CMA-CGM was rather awarded the contract for the "container terminal". The latest update of this article reflects this error.