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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Joint Letter to the Human Rights Council calling for an International Investigative Mission into the Beirut Blast

Wednesday , 15 September 2021

To the Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council,


Excellencies,


We, the undersigned Lebanese and international organizations, individuals, survivors, and families of the victims are writing once again to request your support for the adoption of a resolution by the Human Rights Council to establish an international, independent, and impartial investigative mission, such as a one-year fact-finding mission, into human rights violations related to the Beirut port explosion of August 4, 2020.


More than a year after the explosion in Beirut’s port – one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history – that damaged over half the city and killed at least 218 people, including nationals of Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan, Palestine, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, France, Australia, and the United States, no one has been held accountable.


The explosion resulted from the igniting and detonation of tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which were stored alongside other flammable or explosive materials, in a poorly secured hangar in the middle of a busy commercial and residential area of the densely populated city. Human Rights Watch found that the evidence strongly suggests that a number of high-level military, security, and government officials foresaw the significant threat to life posed by the presence of the stockpile of ammonium nitrate at the port and tacitly accepted the risk of deaths occurring. Given the significant loss of life and threats to the right to life and health engendered by the destruction of much of the city as a result of the blast, the Lebanese government has an obligation, pursuant to article 6 of the ICCPR, to investigate the causes of the explosion and hold accountable those responsible.


In August 2020, the High Commissioner said that a swift international response was needed and supported victims’ call for an impartial, independent, thorough and transparent investigation into the explosion. The UN Special Procedures’ experts also issued a statement in August 2020 laying out benchmarks, based on international human rights standards, for a credible inquiry into the explosion, noting that it should be “protected from undue influence,” “integrate a gender lens,” “grant victims and their relatives effective access to the investigative process,” and “be given a strong and broad mandate to effectively probe any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities.”


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. Human Rights WatchAmnesty InternationalLegal Action WorldwideLegal Agenda, and the International Commission of Jurists have documented a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation that render it incapable of credibly delivering justice, including flagrant political interference, immunity for  high-level political officials, and lack of respect for fair trial and due process standards.


In February 2021, a court removed from the case the judge appointed to lead the investigation after two former ministers whom he had charged filed a complaint against him to this effect. While Judge Tarek Bitar was appointed a day later, politicians and officials similarly started a campaign against him after he made a request to charge and summon for questioning senior political and security officials. State officials, including the caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, have refused to appear for questioning, and the authorities have refused to lift immunity or allow for the prosecution of parliamentarians and senior security officials. Political leaders have attempted to cast doubt on Judge Bitar’s impartiality, accusing him of being politicized. Further, on at least  two occasions Lebanese security forces responded to relatives of the Beirut blast victims, who had peacefully mobilized against these obstructions, with violence. This violent response sends a chilling message about the authorities’ unwillingness to grant the victims and their relatives’ effective access to the investigative process and respect their right to be informed and to participate.


An international investigation would not impede, but rather assist the domestic process. The findings of an international investigation, conducted in accordance with the highest international standards and best practices, may be useful to the Lebanese authorities investigating the explosion and in any effort domestically to bring to justice anyone reasonably suspected of criminal responsibility. Further, the investigation would make recommendations to Lebanon and the international community on steps that are needed both to remedy the violations and to ensure that these do not occur in the future.


It is now time for the Human Rights Council to step in, heeding the calls of the survivors, families of the victims, and the Lebanese people for accountability, the rule of law, and protection of human rights, and establish an investigative mission that would identify human rights violations arising from the Lebanese state’s failure to protect the right to life, in particular whether there were:

  • Failures in the obligation to protect the right to life that led to the explosion at Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020, including failures to ensure the safe storage or removal of a large quantity of highly combustible and potentially explosive material;
  • Failures in the investigation of the blast that would constitute a violation of the right to remedy pursuant to the rights to life.


The Beirut blast was a tragedy of historic proportions, arising from failure to protect the most basic of rights – the right to life – and its impact will be felt for far longer than it takes to physically rebuild the city. Establishing the truth of what happened on August 4, 2020 is a cornerstone to redress and rebuilding after the devastation of that day.


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 nothing less.


List of signatories:


Organizations:

Accountability Now

Activists for Human Rights Canada

ALEF for Human Rights

Alternative Syndicate of the Press

Amnesty International

Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

Arab Program for Human Rights Activists Egypt

Australian Lebanese Independent Forum (ALIF)

Baytna

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Civil Rights Defenders

Gherbal Initiative

Gulf Center for Human Rights

Helem

Human Life Foundation for Development and Relief (Yemen)

Human Rights Research League

Human Rights Solidarity (HRS)

Human Rights Watch

International Center for Transitional Justice

International Commission of Jurists

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Justice for Lebanon

Kulluna Irada

Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH)

Legal Action Worldwide (LAW)

Legal Agenda

MENA Rights Group

Mwatana for Human Rights

Our New Lebanon

PAX for Peace

Peace Track Initiative (Canada/Yemen)

Samir Kassir Foundation

Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)

The Media Association for Peace (MAPS)

The Socio-Economic Justice Initiative – MAAN

Tunisian Human Rights League

UMAM Documentation & Research

World Lebanese Cultural Union


Individuals:

Antoine Charbel Tarabay, Maronite Bishop of Australia, New Zealand and Oceania

Christophe Abi Nassif, Lebanon Program Director, Middle East Institute

Dr. Najat Saliba, Professor of Analytical Chemistry and the Director of the Centre for Nature Conservation at the American University of Beirut

Dr. Nasser Saidi, President Nasser Saidi & Associates; Former Lebanese Minister of Economy & Industry

Randa Slim, Senior Fellow and Director of the Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute

Zeina Zerbé, psychologist leading study on psychological impact of the Beirut Blast


Survivors and families of the victims:
Ahmad Mroueh

Andrea Arslanian

Anthony, Chadia, Ava and Uma Naoum

Antoine Kassab, lost his father

Antoinette Khouri

Arze Salloum

Bouchra Boustany

Carine Tohme

Carine Zaatar

Carole Akiki  

Cecilia and Pierre Assouad

Charbel Moarbes

Charles Nehme, lost his father

Christina Khater

Cybele Asmar, lost her aunt Diane Dib

Degaule Bourjaily 

Dolly Kanaan, mother of Cyril Kanaan

Elias Youssef Akiki, Nohad Maroun Akiki, Mary Elias Akiki, family of Joe Akiki

Fouad Rahme, lost his father

George Bazergy

Georges Zaarour, lost his brother

Georges, Alexandre, and William Ibrahimchah, lost respectively their wife and mother Marion Hochar Ibrahimchah

Jacques Dib

Jean-Marc Matta

Jihad Nehme

Jihane Dagher Hayek

Karine Makhlouf, lost her mother

Karine Mattar

Khajak Papazian

Lara Sayegh

Laura Khouri Kfouri

Layal Abdallah

Louisa Bechara

Lyna Comaty

Maher Achi

Mireille and Bassam Khoury, parents of Elias Khoury

Mirna Habboush

Myrna Mezher Helou, lost her mother

Nada Akiki Abi Akl

Nadine Khazen, lost her mother

Najwa Hayek

Nazih and Cedric el Adm, family of Krsytel el Adm

Nicolas and Vera Fayad

Nicolas Dahan

Noha and Youmna Hojeyban

Olga Kavran

Patrice Cannan, lost his brother

Patricia Haddad, lost her mother

Patrick Sacy & Carine Farran, and their children Luca, Noah and Alicia

Paul and Tracy Naggear, parents of Alexandra Naggear

Paul Karam

Pierre Gemayel

Rainier Jreissati

Reem bou Abdallah

Reina Sfeir

Richard Jreissati

Rima Malek

Rony Mecattaf

Samir Asmar

Sara Jaafar

Sarah Copland and Craig Oehlers, parents of Isaac Oehlers

Tania Daou Alam, lost her husband

Tony Najm, lost his mother

Vartan Papazian, lost his daughter-in-law

Vicky Atallah, sister of Marine Elias Najem

Vicky Zwein

Yvonne Kfouri

Zeina Sfeir

Ziad Richa

Zita Salameh


Families of the following firefighters:

Charbel Hitti

Charbel Karam

Eli Khouzamy

Joe bou Saab

Joe Noun

Misal Hawwa

Najib Hitti

Ralph Mellehy

Ramy Kaaky

Sahar Fares

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