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Smoke rises from the port after the explosion on August 4, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon. © 2020 Fadel Itani/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(Beirut) – Member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council should support the establishment of an international, independent, and impartial fact-finding mission into the 2020 Beirut Port explosion, more than 300 organizations and individuals, including Human Rights Watch, survivors, and families of victims said today. They sent a joint letter with the request to permanent representatives of member and observer states of the council, noting that there has been more than three years of continuous political interference into the domestic investigation.

“We still don’t have access to the truth or to justice, three years after the devastating explosion took our daughter, our home, and our neighborhoods, in a country plagued by impunity,” said Paul and Tracy Naggear, whose 3-year-old daughter Alexandra was killed in the explosion. “We call upon each and every member state of the Human Rights Council to hear our cry for justice and support the establishment of an international fact-finding mission.”

Since December 23, 2021, the domestic investigation into the explosion has been suspended after a series of legal challenges were filed by politicians charged with crimes related to the blast against the lead investigator in the case, Judge Tarek Bitar. The politicians have filed over 25 requests to dismiss Bitar, and other judges involved in the case, causing repeated suspensions of the inquiry while the cases are adjudicated.

In January 2023, Bitar’s attempt to resume the investigation was thwarted by Lebanon’s Public Prosecutor, Ghassan Oueidat, who was himself charged by Bitar in the Beirut Blast case and summoned for investigation. Oueidat filed a lawsuit against Bitar, suspending the investigation, and ordered the release of all 17 suspects who had been detained in connection to the case. At least one suspect has since fled the country.

In March, 38 countries at the UN Human Rights Council condemned the pervasive obstruction and interference with Lebanon’s domestic investigation in a joint statement delivered by Australia before the Council. More than five months later, the Lebanese authorities have taken no meaningful steps to ensure that the domestic investigation can progress or to adopt a law on the independence of the judiciary in line with international standards, the organizations said.

The authorities also failed to respond to a communication sent in March by the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite. She condemned the interference into the investigation and expressed concern that “former state officials and others who have been implicated in the case have disingenuously resorted to recusal proceedings and other challenging actions directed at the investigating judge appointed to examine the case.”

UN member states should put forward a resolution establishing a fact-finding mission to uphold the rights of victims and survivors to truth, justice, and effective remedies, including reparations and to show that such deliberate inaction by the Lebanese authorities has consequences, the organizations said.

The August 4, 2020, Beirut port explosion was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in recent history, killing at least 220 people, wounding over 7,000, and causing extensive property damage. An in-depth investigation by Human Rights Watch found that the disaster arose from the government’s failure to protect the fundamental right to life and pointed to the potential involvement of senior political and security officials in Lebanon. Countries with Global Magnitsky and other human rights and corruption sanctions regimes should sanction Lebanese officials implicated in ongoing violations of human rights related to the explosion and efforts to undermine accountability, Human Rights Watch said.

“For three years, Lebanese authorities have repeatedly and deliberately obstructed the investigation into the blast, showing absolute disregard for the rights of victims and their families to truth and justice,” said Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “International action is needed to break the culture of impunity in Lebanon.”

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