Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Thursday for an impartial investigation into the explosion at Beirut’s shipping port on Tuesday. HRW said that the investigation, conducted by independent experts, should determine the causes and responsibility for the explosion, which was the most powerful explosion Beirut has ever experienced.
The explosion at Beirut’s shipping port is believed to have been caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertilizer, and it is highly flammable and can be used to make bombs. The material had been stored without proper safety precautions for over six years. The blast killed an estimated 140 people and injured an estimated 5,000 people.
Lebanon’s healthcare facilities, which were already struggling due to financial issues and COVID-19, were further overwhelmed by this explosion. The port at Beirut handles 60 percent of Lebanon’s imports, so this has also raised concerns of food insecurity. Lebanese President Michael Aoun promised to launch an investigation into the causes.
On Thursday, HRW expressed concern about the Lebanese judiciary’s ability to independently conduct an investigation because of past documented political interference. There was also initial evidence suggesting that some judges knew the ammonium nitrate was stored at the port and did nothing. HRW said that an investigation should determine what the causes were and who was responsible for the explosion, and it should include why the large quantity of the highly combustible material was in the port for so many years. All officials who knew about the storage and failed to act should be identified.
HRW also called on the Lebanese government to ensure that all people affected by the explosion have access to housing, water, food, and health care. Countries that aid Lebanon should ensure that the aid is distributed transparently, and special attention should be given to particularly vulnerable groups.
Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said:
The devastating impacts of this blast will be borne by Lebanon’s residents for years to come. The Lebanese government has a responsibility to ensure that the disaster response complies with human rights. International experts and international financial support will be essential for making sure the investigation is free from political interference and that victims receive the support they need.
Many countries have pledged support to Lebanon, and the United Nations has released $9 million from the Lebanese Humanitarian Fund to help meet immediate needs.