BEIRUT — The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called for a "serious investigation" into the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion to be conducted "without political interference or further delay." Entrusted to the investigating judge Tarek Bitar, the investigation in Lebanon is facing political and judicial interference and has been stalled for months.
"A serious investigation into the August 2020 blast is urgently needed, without political interference or further delay," Turk told the Human Rights Council.
The blast, which occurred when a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate stored haphazardly at the port for years exploded, claimed more than 220 lives, injured more than 6,500 people and devastated entire neighborhoods of the capital. To date, no one has been held accountable for the tragedy, and the relatives of those who lost their lives regularly protest the delay in justice for their loved ones.
In his speech, the high commissioner stated that "structural injustices, abject poverty and growing inequality constitute widespread human rights violations," before citing Lebanon as an example.
"Lebanon is in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in modern history, with more than half of the population living below the poverty line and 2 million people facing food insecurity," Turk said. "Many public sector services have been disrupted, access to education and health care is becoming a luxury and electricity is scarce."
"I call for major efforts to fight corruption, anchor economic and financial regulation in the rule of law, and firmly embed accountability and transparency in all economic measures," he concluded.
Ensuring independence and impartiality
In addition, at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, Australian Ambassador Amanda Gorely read a statement on behalf of 38 countries in which she called on the Lebanese government to conduct "a prompt, independent, impartial, credible and transparent investigation into the blast." The youngest victim of the Aug. 4 explosion was two-year-old Australian citizen Isaac Oehlers.
Today in the Human Rights Council Australia and 37 countries called on the Lebanese government to carry out a swift, independent, impartial, credible and transparent investigation into the Beirut port explosion pic.twitter.com/hGS5uvS04a— Ambassador Amanda Gorely (@AustraliaUN_GVA) March 7, 2023
Gorely said that the group of 38 countries "urge Lebanon to respect its international human rights obligations and to take all necessary measures to ensure the full independence and impartiality of the Lebanese judiciary. We call on the Lebanese authorities to uphold the right of the victims to an effective remedy and to adequate, effective and prompt reparation for the harm suffered." She also called for a prompt, independent, impartial, credible and transparent investigation into the explosion.
On Monday, in cooperation with Human Rights Watch (HRW), the "Noun" collective organized a sit-in in front of the Beirut Justice Palace, to demand that the UN Human Rights Council establish an international fact-finding commission. If established, this commission would be responsible for collecting evidence related to the explosion at the port in order to make it available to the Lebanese judiciary and the UN General Secretariat.
HRW's Middle East and North Africa Director Lama Fakih called on the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council to work for the creation of an international fact-finding commission. "The relatives of the victims have the right to know who is responsible for the death of their loved ones," she said.
Unlike an international investigation that would be conducted by the UN Security Council, the creation of the commission demanded by civil society does not require a request from the Lebanese state. The latter has been reluctant to internationalize the investigation, with then-President Michel Aoun saying in the aftermath of the explosion that an international investigation "would dilute the truth."