Lebanese authorities failed to protect residents

BEIRUT (AP) – Senior Lebanese officials knew of the risks posed by the highly explosive materials stored for years in the port of Beirut and did nothing to protect the public from it, an international rights group said on Tuesday humans.

In a report on last year’s massive explosion, Human Rights Watch said those same officials are now trying to thwart the investigation.

Report comes as Lebanon marks one year since horrific August 4 explosion which ravaged Beirut, killing at least 214 people, injuring more than 6,000 and destroying or damaging thousands of homes and businesses. The explosion was preceded by a huge fire in a warehouse at the port after hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrates exploded.

A year later, the survey still has not answered questions like who ordered the chemicals to be shipped and why officials ignored repeated internal warnings of their danger.

In the 650-page report titled “They Killed Us From Inside,” the New York-based group released dozens of documents and exchanges between Lebanese officials on ammonium nitrates stored at random for nearly six months. years in the port.

“The actions and omissions of the Lebanese authorities have created an unreasonable risk to life,” the report said, adding that under international human rights law, the failure of a state to act to prevent foreseeable risks to life. life is a violation of the right to life.

Additionally, HRW said the evidence strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the possible devastation of the nitrate’s presence and tacitly accepted the risk. “Under domestic law, this could constitute a crime of homicide with probable intent and / or unintentional homicide,” he added.

The report names senior leaders, including President Michel Aoun, then Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a former Lebanese army chief, senior security officials and several ministers, among others, who were briefed on the risks posed by nitrates in the middle of a commercial and densely populated area. residential area but failed to take the necessary measures to protect the public.

The Lebanese authorities have admitted that they were aware of the nitrates and either claim to have pursued the case after learning about it, or they say they did not, as it was outside their jurisdiction.

HRW said a lack of judicial independence, constitutional immunity for senior officials and a series of procedural and systemic flaws in the national investigation made it “unable to deliver justice credibly.”

The survivors of the blast and the families of the victims have called for an international investigation, saying they lack confidence in the Lebanese justice system.

HRW says the arguments for an “international investigation have only grown stronger.”

Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at HRW, said that “everyone named in the report knew of the dangers posed by the material and had a responsibility to act and did not act under international law.”

“It is a serious violation of human rights. It is a violation of one of the most fundamental rights, the right to life, ”she told The Associated Press.

The Rhosus, the vessel that transported the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to Lebanon in 2013, was supposed to depart from the Georgian port of Batumi on the Black Sea and bound for the Mozambican port of Beira.

He stopped in Beirut in an attempt to earn extra money by tending to several pieces of heavy machinery. But this additional cargo proved to be too heavy for the Rhosus and the crew refused to take it on board. The Rhosus was quickly impounded by the Lebanese authorities for non-payment of port dues and has never left port again..

HRW said questions remain as to whether the shipment was intended to reach Mozambique or if “Beirut was the intended destination” from the start. He said the evidence currently available also indicates that several Lebanese authorities were, at a minimum, criminally negligent under Lebanese law in their handling of the Rhosus cargo.

Last month, the main Lebanese investigating judge in the case, Tarek Bitar, announced that he intended to prosecute senior politicians and the former and current security chiefs in the case, and called for authorization to prosecute them.

Those named in the investigation – including the outgoing prime minister, lawmakers and senior generals, have so far failed to appear at the prosecutor’s office, citing that they enjoy immunity as members of the Parliament or needed special permission from the Prime Minister or Minister of the Interior. appear.

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