Beirut Blast Survivors, Victims Ask UN for Help with Probe

Published: 15 September 2021

Beirut Blast AftermathAftermath of the 2020 explosion at the Beirut's port. (Photo: Mehr News Agency, Wikipedia, CC BY 4.0)

By Lara Dihmis

Survivors and victims of last year’s deadly blast in Beirut’s port joined rights groups on Wednesday to urge the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an “independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, reliable, and transparent” investigative mission into the Aug. 4 explosion that killed at least 218 people.

The joint letter, with 145 signatures, seeks an international response to the lack of progress in the domestic probe, which has yet to hold anyone accountable. The letter emphasized that an international investigation “would not impede, but rather assist the domestic process.”

That process has fallen woefully short, the letter states. “The government of Lebanon initiated an investigation into the Beirut blast, but the ensuing domestic investigation has been repeatedly obstructed and has failed in meeting the benchmarks, based on international standards, that were laid out by the UN Special Procedures.”

Noting Lebanese authorities’ “disdain for justice,” Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement that “one year later, the gap between the domestic process and the standards set out by the UN experts last year couldn’t be more glaring.”

The mystery of who owned the shipment that led to the explosion remained unanswered until Tuesday, when the OCCRP published an investigation which unravelled the opaque network of shell companies behind it to reveal Ukrainian businessman Volodymyr Verbonol and his partners at the center.

The investigation also uncovered how the network’s operations were facilitated by offshore service providers in Cyprus and the United Kingdom.

The findings come just a month after the one-year anniversary of the blast, which also saw Human Rights Watch (HRW) publish evidence suggesting that senior Lebanese politicians, including President Michel Aoun and then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab, were aware of the presence and risks posed by massive amounts of  ammonium nitrate in the harbor.

The HRW report highlighted the incompetence and negligence of Lebanese authorities in handling the cargo, finding that the officials ignored “repeated warnings” about the dangerous nature of ammonium nitrate, and were, at a minimum, “criminally negligent under Lebanese law.”

Yet impunity continues to prevail despite these findings and numerous calls over the past year from global and local NGOs, rights groups and the victims for meaningful action, accountability and justice.

“The thousands of individuals who have had their lives upended and the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have seen their capital city disfigured in a most irrevocable way” deserve immediate action, the letter concluded.