On third anniversary of Beirut port blast, activists call for justice for victims

Successive attempts to establish accountability for the blast, which killed over 230 people and caused losses of billions of dollars, have been stalled due to political differences

August 03, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Beirut port blast
(Photo: (Xinhua/Bilal Jawich)

On Thursday, August 3, the eve of the third anniversary of the Beirut port blast, over 300 rights groups and individuals, including the families and relatives of the victims and survivors, wrote a letter to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) demanding the setting up of an independent investigation to establish accountability for the blast and bring justice to the victims. 

The letter was signed by groups, including the August 4th collective, Daraj, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It blames the Lebanese authorities for deliberately delaying and undermining the domestic investigation in the matter.

The letter says that the member states of UNHRC “have a responsibility and the opportunity to support the Lebanese people’s call for accountability, the rule of law and protection of human rights” and that “uncovering the truth of what happened on 4 August 2020 is the only way to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in the future and is pivotal to ensure redress after the devastation of that day.”  

The Beirut port blast killed over 230 people and injured over 6,500 others. Considered to be one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts in human history, it destroyed thousands of homes in and around the port in Beirut, with 300,000 people left temporarily homeless.

According to various estimates, billions of dollars of loss was incurred due to the blast caused by a fire in a warehouse at the port where more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored allegedly for years.  

The blast occurred at a time when popular street protests against the ruling elite in the country were ongoing and the COVID-19 pandemic had broken out. It further contributed to the deepening of Lebanon’s economic crisis.  

Despite talks of accountability and justice, no top official or anyone from the political leadership has been charged in the matter so far. Investigations to establish responsibility for the blast have been stalled due to disagreements among political groups in the country. 

The head of the first investigation team, Fadi Sawan, was removed within months of the team’s constitution following allegations of bias by Hezbollah and Amal. After a massive public outcry, a new inquiry team was constituted in July 2021 under the leadership of Tarek Bitar. However, Bitar too has faced allegations of political bias.