BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanese and international organizations on Wednesday called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to send a fact-finding mission to investigate the Beirut port explosion two years ago, as a domestic investigation continues to be delayed.
The call from groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International came as the investigation in Lebanon has been stalled since December following legal challenges by defendants and accused officials against the judge leading the inquiry. The August 4, 2020 explosion killed nearly 220 people, injured over 6,000, and caused widespread damage in Beirut.
The call also came amid concerns that a large section of the port’s giant grain silo, shredded by the massive blast, may collapse days after a smaller section collapsed following a week-long fermented grain fire ignited by scorching summer heat. . Lebanese authorities have closed a main road outside the port and are directing traffic to internal roads as a precautionary measure.
The north block of silos has been slowly tilting for days since the other section collapsed on Sunday.
A panel of UN experts also called Wednesday for an international investigation, saying “this tragedy marked one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in recent memory, yet the world has done nothing to find out why it happened.”
The groups called on the UN rights council to table a resolution at the upcoming council session in September that would send “without delay, an independent and impartial fact-finding mission” into the blast.
They believe the mission will establish the facts surrounding the explosion, including the root causes, without political interference. This will support the victims’ campaign for an effective investigation, they said. The groups want to establish state and individual responsibility and advocate for justice for victims.
Many have blamed the Lebanese government’s long-standing corruption and mismanagement for the tragedy, considered one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, when hundreds of tons of high-explosive ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizer, detonated in the port.
Official correspondence between political, insurance and judicial officials reveals that many knew about hazardous substances being unloaded at the port a decade ago, without taking meaningful action to remove them.
After the explosion, port, customs and legal documents revealed that the ammonium nitrate had been shipped to Lebanon in 2013 on a dilapidated Russian ship and had since been improperly stored in a port warehouse.
Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the Lebanese investigation, indicted four former senior government officials for premeditated and negligent homicide that led to the deaths of dozens of people. He also blamed many top security officials in the case.
None of them have been detained and two of the accused were re-elected to parliament in May.
An initial investigation by Human Rights Watch points to the possible involvement of foreign companies, as well as senior political and security officials in Lebanon.
“It is now, more than ever, clear that a domestic investigation cannot do justice,” the groups said, adding that the establishment of an international fact-finding mission mandated by the UN Human Rights Council is “even more urgent.”
The group said that previous calls from survivors of the blast and families of the victims remained unanswered.
“As the Lebanese authorities continue to brazenly obstruct and delay the domestic investigation into the port explosion, an international inquiry is the only way to ensure that justice will be served,” said Diana Shemaan, Deputy Director of Amnesty International.