The letter called on member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international, independent and impartial investigation mission, along the lines of a one-year fact-finding mission, into the August 4, 2020 explosion..
In the aftermath of the explosion, Lebanese officials promised a prompt and transparent investigation, but the ten months following the explosion, according to a statement issued by Human Rights Watch, witnessed nothing but obstruction, evasion and delay..
The organization has documented several flaws in the domestic investigation, which render it unable to credibly deliver justice.
These shortcomings include blatant political interference, impunity for senior political officials, failure to respect fair trial standards, and due process violations..
“Lebanese authorities have had more than ten months to demonstrate their willingness and ability to conduct a credible investigation into the disastrous Beirut explosion, but they have failed on all fronts,” said Aya Majzoub, a researcher at Human Rights Watch in Lebanon.“.
She added, “Members of the Human Rights Council should open an international and independent investigation into the causes of the explosion and who is responsible for it, in response to the requests of the families of the victims and the Lebanese people for accountability.”“.
Red line on politicians
On the tenth of last August, the Lebanese government referred the Beirut explosion to the Judicial Council, which is a special court without appeal procedures. To date, no indictments have been issued, but charges have been brought against 37 people, 19 of whom are currently detained in circumstances that appear to violate their due process rights, according to the organization..
On the tenth of last December, Judge Fadi Sawan, who was leading the investigation at the time, indicted Hassan Diab, the caretaker prime minister, and three former ministers in connection with the explosion. But Diab and two former ministers refused to attend the investigation, and Mohamed Fahmy, the interior minister in the caretaker government, said that he would not ask the security forces to arrest them, even if the judiciary issued arrest warrants..
Last February, the Court of Cassation relieved Judge Sawan of his duties following a lawsuit filed by two of the former ministers whom he had accused. A replacement for Judge Sawan was appointed two days later, but the exemption drew attention to the “red line” drawn by the judiciary around politicians..
The absence of accountability promotes a culture of impunity
According to the human rights organization, “the lack of accountability that marred the investigation clearly shows the culture of impunity that Lebanese officials have enjoyed for a long time, in addition to the continued failure of domestic procedures that reinforce the need for an international investigation in order to determine the causes of the explosion and who bears responsibility for it.”“.
The organization pointed out that “the cost of this failure includes, in addition to the lack of justice for the victims, the unacceptable risk that the responsible parties will commit more violations and neglect, which may lead to more losses and instability in the context of the currency collapse, the collapse of the economy, the deterioration of infrastructure and the deterioration of Public services“.
The organization stressed that “storage of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate in an unsafe and poorly ventilated warehouse in the middle of a crowded commercial and residential area in the densely populated capital is contrary to most national standards and may pose an unacceptable risk to life, especially if stored alongside drums of oil, kerosene and hydrochloric acid, five miles of wick on wooden reels, and 15 tons of fireworks“.
In addition, according to the letter, “the effects and consequences of the explosion violated Lebanon’s international human rights obligations to guarantee the right to education and an adequate standard of living, including the rights to food, housing, health, property and an effective remedy.”“.
And Human Rights Watch considered that “UN-mandated investigations are increasingly used to respond to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, whether they are prolonged or resulting from sudden events, to promote accountability for the commission of these violations and to combat impunity.”“.
Establishment of an independent investigation mission
The human rights organization said: “It is time for the Human Rights Council to intervene and listen to the calls of the families of the victims and the Lebanese people to demand accountability, the rule of law, and the protection of rights.”“.
The letter added: “The independent investigation mission must determine the cause of the explosion and the human rights violations resulting from the failure of the Lebanese state to protect the right to life, including its failure to ensure safe storage or removal of a large amount of highly flammable and potentially explosive materials. The mission must then send the results of its investigation and conclusions to the competent Lebanese judicial authorities“.
Majzoub said, “The Beirut explosion was not an isolated or bizarre event. Rather, it was a very tragic example of the impact on human rights of decades of corruption, incompetence, impunity and mismanagement by the Lebanese ruling elite. Without accountability for this explosion, there is nothing to prevent without another catastrophe.