Targeted sanctions and an international investigation are the only possible routes to justice

Source: Human Rights Watch

(Beirut) – As evidence implicates senior Lebanese officials in the August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut that killed 218 people, systemic legal and political issues in Lebanon have kept them from being held accountable. their actions so far, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The UN Human Rights Council should mandate an investigation, and countries with Magnitsky Law and similar sanctions regimes for human rights violations and corruption crimes should sanction officials implicated in violations. continuing which culminated in the explosion of August 4 and which attempted to obstruct the establishment of responsibilities.

The 127-page report, entitled “ They Killed Us from the Inside ‘: An Investigation into the August 4 Beirut Blast”(“ ” They Killed Us From Inside ”: An Investigation into the August 4, 2021 Beirut Explosion ”), presents evidence of official actions, against a backdrop of long-standing corruption and mismanagement from the port of the Lebanese capital, which allowed the storage, under dangerous conditions, of ammonium nitrate, a potentially explosive chemical compound, for nearly six years. The explosion caused by the chemical was one of the most destructive non-nuclear explosions on record, pulverizing the port and damaging more than half of the city.

Overwhelming evidence shows that the August 2020 explosion in the Port of Beirut was caused by the negligence of senior Lebanese officials who did not accurately communicate the dangers posed by ammonium nitrate, knowingly stored this component in dangerous conditions and did not protect the population ”, said Lama Fakih , director of the Crises and Conflicts Division of Human Rights Watch and director of the Beirut office. “ A year later, the scars of that devastating day remain etched in the city as survivors and families of the victims still await answers.

Human Rights Watch relied on official correspondence about the Rhosus, the ship that brought the ammonium nitrate to port, and its cargo, some of which had never been made public before, and on interviews with Lebanese government, security and judicial officials, to describe how these dangerous products arrived at the docks and were stored there. Human Rights Watch also shed light on what government officials knew about ammonium nitrate and what steps they took or failed to take to protect the population.

The evidence accumulated to date raises questions, including whether the ammonium nitrate was destined for Mozambique, as indicated in the Rhosus’ shipping documents, or whether Beirut was the intended destination. The evidence currently available also establishes that several Lebanese authorities were, at a minimum, criminally negligent under Lebanese law in their handling of the cargo, creating an unreasonable risk to human life, Human Rights Watch determined.

Furthermore, official documentation clearly suggests that some government officials anticipated and tacitly accepted the risk of death posed by the presence of ammonium nitrate in the port. Under national law, this is likely to constitute a crime of homicide with probable intent and / or manslaughter. Under international human rights law, the failure of a state to act to prevent foreseeable risks to life violates the right to life.

Officials from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which oversees the port, were warned of the danger, but failed to take steps to properly communicate it to justice or to adequately investigate the potentially explosive and combustible nature of the ship’s cargo, and the danger it posed. They then knowingly stored the ammonium nitrate along with other flammable or explosive materials for nearly six years in a poorly secured and ventilated shed in the middle of a densely populated commercial and residential area, violating the regulations. guidelines international storage and handling of this chemical component. They would also not have adequately supervised the repair work undertaken on hangar 12, which could have triggered the explosion of August 4, 2020.

Official correspondence with customs officials, who report to the finance ministry, reveals that a number of ministry officials were aware of the dangers. Customs officials said they sent at least six letters to the court asking for the sale or export of the materials. But court records show they were repeatedly told their claims were procedurally incorrect. According to court officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch, customs did not need judicial authorization to sell, re-export, or destroy the materials.

The Lebanese army command did not take into account the information it received about the existence of ammonium nitrate, claiming that it did not need it, even after learning that its content of nitrogen classified it, under local law, as a material suitable for making explosives and required military approval to be imported and inspected. Military intelligence, responsible for all security issues relating to ammunition, narcotics, and violence in the port, has taken no apparent action to secure equipment, establish an emergency response plan, or take measures to protect it. precaution.

The Minister of the Interior at the time and the Director General of General Security admitted to having been aware of the presence of ammonium nitrate on board the Rhosus, however declaring that they had taken no action after learning of it. , because it was not within their competence.

Sources said State Security, a branch of the Supreme Defense Council, which implements Lebanese defense policy, has been aware of the existence of ammonium nitrate and its dangers for at least September 2019. But there was an unreasonable delay in reporting the threat to senior officials, and the information provided was incomplete. The first correspondence from State Security addressed to the President and the Prime Minister dates from July 20, 2020, two weeks before the explosion.

President Michel Aoun, who is also the president of the Supreme Defense Council, admitted that he had been aware of the presence of ammonium nitrate since at least July 21, 2020 and had asked an adviser to ensure a followed, but he claimed not to be responsible. Prime Minister Hassan Diab, Vice-President of the Council, had known since June 3, 2020, but took no obvious action except to transmit the State Security report dated July 20. 2020 to the Ministries of Justice and Public Works.

The explosion at the Port of Beirut left 218 people dead and 7,000 injured, causing physical disabilities to at least 150 people. It caused immeasurable psychological damage and damaged 77,000 apartments, causing the displacement of more than 300,000 people. According to world Bank , the explosion caused property damage in the amount of $ 3.8 billion to $ 4.6 billion.

Lebanese authorities have promised to investigate quickly and seriously. But in the year since the explosion, procedural and systemic flaws in the national investigation prevented it from credibly delivering justice. These flaws include the lack of judicial independence, the immunity of senior politicians, the lack of respect for fair trial guarantees and due process violations.

The survivors of the explosion and the families of the victims have called for an international investigation, expressing their lack of confidence in national mechanisms.

The arguments in favor of an international investigation have strengthened. The UN Human Rights Council should mandate an investigation to identify the causes and responsibilities of the 4 August explosion, as well as the measures necessary to provide genuine redress to victims and prevent further human rights violations , urged Human Rights Watch.

Countries with Magnitsky Law and other human rights and anti-corruption sanctions regimes should sanction Lebanese officials implicated in ongoing human rights violations related to the explosion and impediments to accountability , Human Rights Watch said. Such sanctions would reaffirm the commitment of these countries to promote the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations and provide additional leverage to those who press for justice to be done through national judicial procedures.

Despite the devastation caused by the explosion, Lebanese officials continue to choose the path of avoidance and impunity over truth and justice », Concluded Lama Fakih. “ The UN Human Rights Council should immediately authorize an investigation, and other countries impose targeted sanctions on individuals implicated in ongoing abuses and obstructions to justice.

Read the report


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