BEIRUT — Lebanese and international organizations, along with survivors and families of the victims of the Aug.4, 2020 port explosion on Thursday sent a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council calling — once again — for an "independent and impartial fact-finding mission" into human rights violations related to the explosion on its third anniversary.
"We, the undersigned Lebanese and international organizations, survivors, and families of the victims are writing once again to urge you to support the adoption of a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 54th regular session to establish an international, independent and impartial fact-finding mission into human rights violations related to the Beirut port explosion of 4 August 2020," the letter read.
The signatories included Amnesty International, Dar Al Jadid, the online media outlet Daraj, German cultural center Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Human Rights Watch, Lokman Slim Foundation and the Legal Agenda.
"The Lebanese authorities have repeatedly interfered with, obstructed, and undermined the domestic investigation. The politicians charged with crimes related to the explosion have filed over 25 requests to dismiss the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, and other judges involved in the case, with the latest series of challenges resulting in the suspension of the investigation since December 2021," the letter added.
The fact-finding mission proposed in the letter would be tasked with the following:
-Establish the facts and circumstances of the explosion, including its causes, with view to establishing state and individual responsibility;
-Identify human rights violations arising from the Lebanese state’s failure to protect the right to life;
-Identify the obstacles in the investigation of the blast that would constitute a violation of the state’s duty to investigate gross violations of international human rights law effectively, promptly, thoroughly and impartially and, where appropriate, to take action against those allegedly responsible in accordance with domestic and international law;
-Identify violations of the victims’ rights to access to justice and effective remedies, including reparation; and
-Formulate recommendations to ensure justice and reparations for the families.
In a separate statement, Human Rights Watch also called for the establishment of a fact-finding mission.
“For three years, Lebanese authorities have repeatedly and deliberately obstructed the investigation into the blast, showing absolute disregard for the rights of victims and their families to truth and justice,” said Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, Ramzi Kaiss, in the text published on HRW's website. “International action is needed to break the culture of impunity in Lebanon.”
“We still don’t have access to the truth or to justice, three years after the devastating explosion took our daughter, our home, and our neighborhoods, in a country plagued by impunity,” said Paul and Tracy Najjar, whose 3-year-old daughter Alexandra was killed in the explosion, as quoted by HRW. “We call upon each and every member state of the Human Rights Council to hear our cry for justice and support the establishment of an international fact-finding mission.”
Countries with Global Magnitsky and other human rights organizations should sanction Lebanese officials implicated in the ongoing violations of human rights related to the explosion and efforts to undermine accountability, Human Rights Watch said.
In early March, during the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, thirty-eight UN member and observer states signed a joint statement strongly condemning political interference in the national investigations into the August 4 Beirut port blast. This joint statement was perceived as a first step towards internationalizing the investigation.
The blast that ravaged Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, killed over 220 people, wounded more than 6,500, and destroyed swaths of the capital.
The port blast investigation has been suspended since December 2021 due to numerous complaints made against investigative Judge Tarek Bitar by several politicians that the judge called under question. In January 2023, Bitar resumed the investigation but was obstructed by Lebanon's top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, who ordered the release of all detainees and charged Bitar, after he himself was charged.