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Lebanon: Release of all suspects in Beirut port blast prompts demand for urgent UN action

Families and relatives of victims of the Beirut port explosion, gather in front of the Justice Palace in 2022 to support the judge investigating the blast, Tarek Bitar, after he was forced to suspend his work. © Houssam Shbaro/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Latest move shows domestic investigation cannot deliver justice

UN’s Human Rights Council needs to create impartial fact-finding mission

‘The Lebanese authorities have run roughshod over the law, shamelessly bypassing an ongoing criminal investigation’ - Aya Majzoub

In response to Lebanon’s Prosecutor General Ghassan Oweidat’s order today (25 January) to release all suspects detained in connection with the catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port on 4 August 2020, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the UN’s Human Rights Council should urgently pass a resolution to create an impartial fact-finding mission into the devastating explosion.

The domestic investigation has stagnated with no progress in sight due to multiple legal challenges by politicians charged in the case seeking to replace the lead investigator, Judge Tarek Bitar.

Hours after the prosecutor general’s order, security forces began releasing the 17 detainees held in connection to the blast.

Continuous obstruction

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Legal Action Worldwide, Legal Agenda and the International Commission of Jurists have documented a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation, including flagrant political interference, immunity for high-level political officials, lack of respect for fair trial standards, and due process violations.

Accused politicians have filed more than 25 requests to dismiss Bitar and other judges involved in the case, moves which have led to numerous delays. As a result of the latest legal challenges the case was suspended since December 2021.

Calls for UN action

Survivors, victims’ families and more than 162 Lebanese and international rights groups have called on Human Rights Council members to put forward a resolution establishing an international investigation. A call supported by political parties and dozens of Lebanese members of Parliament.

The Human Rights Council should pass a resolution to establish and dispatch without delay, an independent and impartial fact-finding mission into the Beirut explosion that would establish the facts and circumstances, including the root causes of the explosion, with a view to establishing state and individual responsibility and supporting justice and reparations for the victims.

Mireille Khoury, mother of Elias Khoury, 15, who was killed by the explosion, said:

“We are in shock. What state are we living in? All this proves that the international investigation is our only hope and that the Human Rights Council is our main route. When will the leaders of the world open their eyes to this horrendous injustice against us.”

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

The Lebanese authorities have run roughshod over the law, shamelessly bypassing an ongoing criminal investigation and retaliating against a judge who was just doing his job.

“It is patently clear that the Lebanese authorities are determined to obstruct justice. Since the explosion, they have repeatedly blocked the domestic investigation, shielding themselves from accountability at the expense of the victims’ rights to truth, justice and redress.”

Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director, said:

“Lebanon may be leaderless, but that doesn’t mean other countries cannot step up to lead on human rights for people in Lebanon.

“The gross failure to provide justice to the victims of the Beirut port explosion will only further undermine stability and the rule of law at this critical juncture in Lebanon’s history.”

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