HRW and AI call on UN Human Rights Council for independent investigation into Beirut blast

File – A sign protesting the Beriut explosion in 2020, which left 200 dead (File). – Stringer/dpa

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) have urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution to conduct an independent investigation into the August 2020 Beirut port explosion after the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the release of all detainees.

«The serious lack of justice for the victims of the Beirut port explosion will only further undermine stability and the rule of law at this critical moment in Lebanon’s history,» said HRW’s Middle East director, Lama Fakih.

HRW and AI said in a joint statement that Lebanese authorities have «repeatedly» obstructed the nationwide investigation into the blast «by shielding implicated politicians and officials from interrogation, prosecution and arrest.»

«HRW, AI, Legal Action Worldwide, Legal Agenda and the International Commission of Jurists have documented a variety of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation, including blatant political interference, immunity for high-level political officials, lack of respect for fair trial standards, and violations of due process,» it has sentenced.

They have therefore called on the UN Human Rights Council to send an «independent and impartial» mission to the country «without delay.» «The mission should establish the facts and circumstances, including the root causes, of the explosion with a view to establishing state and individual responsibility, as well as supporting justice and reparations for the victims,» it has stressed.

For her part, AI’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Aya Majzoub, noted, for her part, that Lebanon «has disregarded the law, blatantly evading an ongoing criminal investigation and retaliating against a judge who was simply doing his job.»

«It is clear that the Lebanese authorities are determined to obstruct justice. Since the explosion, they have repeatedly blocked the internal investigation, shielding themselves from accountability at the expense of the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations,» he added.

ON THE JUDGE Lebanon’s Prosecutor General Ghasan Ueidat on Wednesday ordered the release of all those detained for their alleged connection to the Beirut blast amid his tensions with the judge in charge of the investigations.

The decision came just a day after the judge in charge of the investigations, Tarek Bitar, indicted the prosecutor general and several judges, according to sources quoted by LBCI television channel. Bitar resumed his work on Monday after a thirteen-month suspension due to several lawsuits against him that blocked the investigations.

In response to Bitar’s decision, the Lebanese Prosecutor’s Office filed a notice with the courts not to enforce the judge’s notices as invalid, amid widespread unrest among the families of victims of the blast, which left more than 200 dead, over the hindrances to the process.

Bitar replaced Fadi Sauan after he was removed from the case following a series of complaints filed by senior officials summoned to testify, including former Interior Minister Nuhad Machnuk, although lawsuits by several former ministers summoned to testify also led to the suspension of his investigations.

Popular unrest has been on the rise in recent months due to the blockage and delays in the removal of the immunity of former ministers and parliamentarians who have been summoned by Judge Bitar to testify as part of the investigations, including former Prime Minister Hasan Diab, who resigned amid the wave of protests following the event.