Calls for Justice and UN Investigation Three Years After Beirut Explosion

Beirut port explosion
Port of Beirut was leveled in the 2020 explosion butthree years later no one has been held accountable (file photo)

Published Aug 4, 2023 4:05 PM by The Maritime Executive

Marking three years since the disastrous Beirut port explosion, the global community is joining with survivors and families of victims in calling for the completion of the investigation and for those responsible to be held accountable. Since the explosion on August 4, 2020, no one has been criminally charged while critics accuse the government and officials of political interference in the domestic investigation of the incident, consequently delaying justice. 

In a joint letter sent on Friday, over 300 human rights organizations and individuals affected by the explosion called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to take over the investigation. The letter asked member countries of the council to support the establishment of an international, independent, and impartial fact-finding mission into the 2020 Beirut port explosion. 

“We still don’t have access to the truth or justice, three years after the devastating explosion took our daughter, home, and our neighborhoods, in a country plagued by impunity,” said Paul and Tracy Naggear, whose 3-year-old daughter died from the explosion.

The protests by the families are being supported by countries around the world. Mattew Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State issued a statement saying, “The United States continues to stand with the people of Lebanon. The victims and their families deserve justice and accountability for those responsible for the disaster and the underlying causes. The lack of progress towards accountability is unacceptable and underscores the need for judicial reform and greater respect for the rule of law in Lebanon.”

While Lebanon initiated a domestic investigation into the explosion in 2021, it has been suspended after a series of legal challenges filed by politicians charged with crimes related to the blast. So far, two investigators appointed to lead the blast’s probe have failed to deliver meaningful results. The first lead investor Judge Fadi Sawan was removed from the case within months. The second Judge Tarek Bitar has faced over 25 lawsuits filed by Lebanese politicians to have him resign, further causing suspension of the blast inquiry.

As the case dragged on, Lebanon’s top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat in January 2023, ordered the release of all suspects detained in the investigation. Reports have said that some of the victims, now living overseas, have been exploring filing lawsuits in the international courts.

At a UN Human Rights Council meeting in March, 38 countries through a joint statement delivered by Australia condemned the pervasive obstruction of justice in the Beirut port blast. The statement called on Lebanese authorities to abide by their international human rights obligations and safeguard the independence of the judiciary. Five months later, the groups highlight that nothing has progressed.

“UN member states should put forward a resolution at the Human Rights Council establishing a fact-finding mission into the explosion. The findings should make recommendations to Lebanon and the international community on steps that are needed both to remedy the established violations and to ensure such an incident does not recur,” stated the letter sent to UN Human Rights Council. 

The August 2020 Beirut port explosion is one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. It is believed to have claimed at least 220 people, wounded over 7,000, and caused extensive property damage around the port. 

The explosion is believed to have stemmed from a fire at a warehouse that ignited nearly 3,000 tons of the highly flammable ammonium nitrate. Previous efforts had identified the dangerous material reporting that it had been improperly stored in the port since 2014. Political leaders and port officials have been accused of ignoring the chemicals and failing to act to reduce the danger to the port and city.