Human Rights Watch accuses the Lebanese government of “criminal negligence”

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It is a 126-page report in which the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) does not forgive the Lebanese authorities. They are charged with criminal negligence, violation of the right to life and blocking the local investigation into the devastating explosion on August 4, 2020 in the port of Beirut. The NGO recommended the establishment of an independent UN fact-finding mission and international sanctions against senior Lebanese officials.

The gigantic explosion on August 4, 2020, which left 214 dead and more than 6,500 injured, was caused by the explosion of several hundred tons of ammonia stored since 2014 in a dilapidated warehouse in the port.

In this report, the NGO documented the multiple failures of political and security authorities in managing this stock of hazardous materials from its arrival at the port in 2013 until its explosion. Dozens of government officials, customs and security officials who were aware of the dangers are identified, according to the NGO.

“Various authorities (…) have demonstrated criminal negligence, under Lebanese law, in handling the cargo,” summarizes the HRW report, based on several interviews and hundreds of official correspondence, some of which have never been returned. to the public. . “The evidence strongly suggests that some government officials were aware of the (risk of) death that the presence of ammonium nitrate in the port could cause and tacitly agreed (to take) this risk,” lamented HRW.

The violations began in 2013 as soon as the cargo arrived on board the Moldovan-flagged ship “Rhosus”, which initially left Georgia for Mozambique, according to the NGO. “Officials from the Department of Public Works and Transportation have incorrectly described the risks of the cargo in their demands that the courts unload the cargo,” HRW said.

They also “knowingly stored ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut with flammable or explosive materials for almost six years,” even after receiving reports that warned of the “extremely dangerous” nature of the population, HRW lamented. For their part, customs authorities, first alerted in 2014 and who may have acted unilaterally to remove the explosives from the port, did not take adequate measures to dispose of them, according to HRW.

As for the Lebanese army, it “did not take any apparent steps to secure” stocks, according to the report. The military command has even exempted itself from all responsibility, when it should, according to Lebanese law, approve the importation and inspection of materials classified as usable in the manufacture of explosives.

State Security, which investigated nitrate reserves before the explosion, was slow to report the potential threat to senior officials, and also provided incomplete information on the dangers posed by these chemicals, according to HRW.

The then Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, received information about the shipment only after June 2020, just two months before the explosion. “So I forgot about it and no one followed up. There were disasters every day, ”he told HRW.

For the NGO, the local investigation is “incapable of credibly doing justice.” She requested a fact-finding mission ordered by the UN Human Rights Council. The NGO also recommended sanctions against all persons and entities “implicated in continuous human rights violations (…) and efforts to undermine” the local investigation, while no official has been brought to trial in court, a year later. of the tragedy.

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