December 8, 2021
Mr. António Guterres
Secretary-General of the United Nations
Dear Mr. Secretary-General,
We are writing to you ahead of your visit to Lebanon later this month, which comes at a crucial time for the country. We strongly urge you to use the trip as an opportunity to push the Lebanese authorities to implement much-needed reforms. They need to hear from the top official at the United Nations that they have recklessly plunged the country into one of the worst economic crises in modern times, with a disastrous impact on human rights. They also need your unvarnished assessment of the way they have repeatedly undermined and obstructed efforts to achieve justice in relation to the catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020.
Given the gravity of the abuses in Lebanon and the persistent unwillingness of the Lebanese authorities to undertake any reforms, we hope that you will press them to take urgent and concrete steps to protect human rights during this pivotal time in Lebanon’s history. To this end, we urge you to:
- Publicly urge Lebanese authorities to crack down on and put an end to the corruption that has helped fuel the unprecedented economic crisis and led to the explosion in Beirut’s port;
- Publicly condemn the political interference and attempts to obstruct the domestic investigation into the explosion in Beirut’s port, and publicly support the calls made by 145 Lebanese and international rights groups, survivors, and families of the victims for an international, independent investigation;
- Meet with the survivors and families of the Beirut blast victims;
- Meet with civil society groups in Lebanon who have been advocating for human rights reforms, often at great personal cost, and who have stepped in to fill the gap left by the government by providing much-needed assistance to the Lebanese people and almost 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon;
- Publicly urge Lebanese leaders to hold parliamentary elections scheduled for spring 2022, guaranteeing fundamental political rights and other rights essential for free and fair elections, including freedom of association and assembly.
According to United Nations figures, more than 80% of Lebanon’s residents do not have access to basic rights, including health, education, and adequate housing. Fuel shortages have caused widespread electricity blackouts, impacting people’s ability to access food, water, adequate housing, and other basic rights. The World Bank has described Lebanon’s crisis as a “deliberate depression,” due to Lebanese leaders’ mismanagement and lack of effective policy actions, and yet Lebanese authorities still have not implemented any national social protection scheme to shield vulnerable residents from the impact of the banking crisis, the 90% percent devaluation of the Lebanese pound, and hyperinflation.
Further, the Lebanese authorities have consistently failed to hold accountable the perpetrators of grave human rights abuses. No one has yet been held accountable for the catastrophic explosion in Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020, which killed at least 219 people and devastated half the city. Human Rights Watch’s review of hundreds of pages of official documents strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate’s presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring. This amounts to a violation of the right to life under international human rights law.
Instead, Lebanese authorities have escalated their attacks on free speech and assembly in the wake of the October 17, 2019, nationwide protests. Security forces used excessive and at times lethal force against mostly peaceful protesters – with impunity. And authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals for peaceful speech, including in Lebanon’s inherently unfair and abusive military courts.
We urge you to use this visit to make clear to the Lebanese government that if they want the support of the international community, they need to urgently implement credible reforms. Anything less risks further emboldening them to continue with abuses and will be a signal to the Lebanese public that the international community, and especially the United Nations system, has failed them.
We would be happy to meet with you and your team in advance of your visit to discuss these recommendations.