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Lebanon: 300 civil society groups and survivors urge UN to investigate Beirut explosion - letter

Devastating explosion on 4 August 2020 killed at least 235 people and shattered the port city

Lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar has been blocked by the Lebanese authorities

‘The authorities have used every tool at their disposal to shamelessly undermine and obstruct the domestic investigation’ - Aya Majzoub

Ahead of the three-year anniversary of the catastrophic Beirut port explosion that killed at least 235 people and decimated the city, more than 300 Lebanese and international civil society groups - as well as survivors and victims’ families - have signed a joint letter to the UN’s Human Rights Council calling on it to to urgently establish an international fact-finding mission to investigate the causes of the explosion and identify those responsible for the blast.

The domestic investigation into the explosion has been suspended since December 2021 due to a series of legal challenges filed against the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar, and other judges involved in the case by politicians who have themselves come under investigation.

When Bitar tried to resume his investigation in January this year, he was made the subject of a lawsuit and a travel ban by the country’s public prosecutor, Ghassan Oweidat, who has also been charged in the investigation. Oweidat has ordered the release of all detained individuals suspected of involvement in the explosion, and at least one defendant has since fled the country.

Oweidat’s actions have been deemed illegal by the Beirut Bar Association and the Lebanese Judges Association. However, since then, there has been no progress on the stalled investigation. 

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:

“The Lebanese authorities have had three years to investigate what caused the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port and to hold those suspected of criminal responsibility to account. Yet to this day, absolutely no one has been held responsible for the tragedy that unfolded on 4 August 2020.

“Instead, the authorities have used every tool at their disposal to shamelessly undermine and obstruct the domestic investigation to shield themselves from accountability - and perpetuate the culture of impunity in the country.”

International condemnation

The international community has repeatedly condemned the Lebanese authorities’ blatant political interference in the domestic investigation, including in a joint statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this year. In March, Australia delivered a joint statement on behalf of 38 states at the Human Rights Council expressing concern that the domestic investigation into the explosion had been “hampered by systemic obstruction, interference, intimidation and a political impasse”. The statement called on the Lebanese authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations and safeguard the independence of the judiciary, and to carry out a swift, independent, impartial, credible and transparent investigation.

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