August 13, 2020 – The catastrophic blast which led to the deaths of more than 200 in Beirut on 4 August, has prompted more than three dozen independent rights experts on Thursday, to issue a call for justice and accountability on behalf of the Lebanese people.

“The scale and impact of the lethal explosion are unprecedented”, the UN human rights experts said in a joint statement. “We are deeply concerned about the level of irresponsibility and impunity surrounding human and environmental devastation on this scale”.

Overlapping calamities

Against the backdrop of COVID-19 combined with a devastating political, economic and financial crisis, there has been a sharp deterioration of human rights protection and much suffering across the city, according to the UN experts.

Moreover, at least 200 have been reportedly killed, thousands wounded, and at least 300,000 rendered homeless. Dozens remain missing. 

The experts called for “urgent assistance, support and reparation to victims…without discrimination”, with Beirut Port and the country’s main grain storage silos almost completely destroyed, hospitals and medical equipment severely impacted, and the authorities’ ability to protect the rights to food, adequate housing and health, also seriously diminished. 

The people’s voice 

Citing reports that pollutants released by the explosion are leading to severe air and other environmental contamination across the capital city, the experts maintained that the Lebanese people have the right to clear and accurate information about the health and environmental risks posed. 

“Such information must be available, accessible and functional”, they stated, while also calling on the national authorities to “allow peaceful protests and to protect demonstrators and journalists”, during the unrest that has followed since last week, which many Lebanese see as stemming from successive governments’ failure to safely deal with the ammonium nitrate that appears to have led to the blast, stored in a port warehouse. 

Systemic failures

The explosion has brought into focus systemic problems, a deficit of good governance, and allegations of widespread corruption. 

“This has resulted in a failure to ensure protection of the rights of all without discrimination, including the rights to life, personal liberty, health, housing, food, water, education, and to a healthy environment”, the statement said. 

They expressed concern that the tragedy would expose “cracks in the executive, legislative, and justice institutions” of the country, leading to delays in ensuring effective remedies.

Inquest needed

The experts supported calls for a “credible and independent investigation” to examine all claims as well as the underlying human rights failures – with a strong mandate to probe any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities and institutions to protect basic rights.

The probe must protect the privacy, confidentiality and testimony of victims, witnesses, associates, colleagues and their families and its findings and recommendations should be made public, the experts stressed.

“The investigation should also consider Lebanon’s international obligations governing the handling of dangerous substances and the right of everyone to information on risks to life and health”, they upheld, offering their support.

A Council matter

In view of the seriousness of their concerns, the independent experts urged the UN Human Rights Council to convene a special debate next month “to explore all possible avenues” to ensure that effective, transparent and impartial justice is realized for the victims, and the Lebanese people at large; long-term systemic reforms are implemented, based on open consultations; and calling on the international community to provide urgent assistance, addressing the immediate needs of shelter, food, medical, health and other disaster-related needs.

“We also stand in solidarity with the people of Lebanon, and especially extend our concern and condolences to the victims”, the statement concluded.

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are neither UN staff nor paid for their work. Click here for the list of experts.