GENEVA (13 August 2020) – The colossal deadly explosion in Beirut on 4 August requires a prompt and independent investigation that underscores international human rights obligations, clarifies responsibilities related to the explosion, and leads to justice and accountability, UN human rights experts* said today. They issued the following statement:
“The scale and impact of the lethal explosion are unprecedented. We are deeply concerned about the level of irresponsibility and impunity surrounding human and environmental devastation on this scale. The catastrophic blast occurred while Lebanon is already confronted by a devastating political, economic and financial crisis, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a sharp deterioration of human rights protection and much suffering.
As of today, approximately 170 people have lost their lives, thousands are wounded, at least 300,000 are now homeless, and dozens are missing. With the Port of Beirut and the country’s main grain storage silos almost completely destroyed, as well as the hospitals and medical equipment severely impacted, the capacity of the authorities to meet their obligations to protect the rights to food, adequate housing and the right to health are also seriously diminished. At this stage, urgent assistance, support and reparation to victims are essential, without discrimination.
We also call on the national authorities to allow peaceful protests and to protect demonstrators and journalists. All Lebanese, civil society and affected communities must be able to freely influence government decision-making during this critical moment, including in relation to the coordination, oversight and delivery of any foreign aid.
Everyone in Lebanon has the right to information about the health and environmental risks posed by stockpiles of dangerous substances. Such information must be available, accessible and functional, in a manner consistent with the principle of non-discrimination.
According to a number of reports, pollutants released by the explosion are leading to severe air and other environmental contamination across Beirut. All people also have the right to know the risks of toxic exposure to the nitrous oxide and other pollutants released to the air over the city on their health. Special attention needs to be paid to older persons, persons with disabilities, and others who may be in particularly vulnerable situations and who are disproportionately affected during emergencies.
Under international environmental and human rights law, States and businesses have a duty to take action to confront the risks posed by hazardous substances. In the face of such risk, governments cannot simply sit back. They must act rapidly and comprehensively to prevent the loss of lives and disastrous health and environmental consequences.
This explosion and its aftermath have brought into focus systemic problems, a deficit of good governance, and allegations of widespread corruption. This has resulted in a failure to ensure protection of the rights of all without discrimination, including the rights to life, personal liberty, health, housing, food, water, education, and to a healthy environment. We are concerned that this tragedy will expose cracks in the executive, legislative, and justice institutions, leading to delays and challenges in ensuring effective remedies for all those affected.
We support calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and independent investigation based on human rights principles, to examine all claims, concerns and needs in relation to the explosion as well as the underlying human rights failures. The investigation should be protected from any undue influence and be given a strong and broad mandate to effectively probe any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities and institutions to protect human rights. Any such investigation should integrate a gender-lens and must also grant victims and their relatives effective access to the investigative process, respecting their right to be informed and to participate. The investigation, as well as other actions linked to the disaster, must also protect the privacy as well as the confidentiality of the identities and testimony of victims, witnesses, associates, colleagues and their families. The findings and recommendations of the investigation should be made public.
The investigation should also consider Lebanon’s international obligations governing the handling of dangerous substances and the right of everyone to information on risks to life and health. In addition to human rights and criminal law, the investigation should also examine Lebanon’s obligations under international commercial and shipping law.
We stand ready to cooperate with the Lebanese authorities, civil society, and the international community including by supporting the investigation(s) and other measures in order to minimize the harm of this disaster, ensure accountability, build back better in full respect of the multi-religious and multi-cultural fabric of the society and prevent similar tragedies in the future. The international community should also provide timely and effective support to all the people in Lebanon, including their demands for justice, based on international solidarity and cooperation.
In view of the seriousness of our concerns, we urge consideration of a special debate at the UN Human Rights Council this September so as to explore all possible avenues by which (i) Justice for the multiple victims of the explosion, and for the people in Lebanon at large, is rendered effectively, transparently and impartially; (ii) Non-repetition is secured through long-term systemic reforms based on open consultations with the people in Lebanon; and (iii) Urgent assistance is provided by the international community to Lebanon and its people to address the immediate needs of shelter, food, medical, health and other related needs emerging from the disaster.
We also stand in solidarity with the people of Lebanon, and especially extend our concern and condolences to the victims.
* The Experts: Mr. Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Ms. Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and association; Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai, Dante Pesce (Vice-Chair), Anita Ramasastry (Chair); Ms. Yuefen Li, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights; Ms. E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Mr. Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ms. Elizabeth Broderick (Chair), Ms. Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Ms. Alda Facio, Ms. Meskerem Geset Techane, Ms. Ivana Radačić, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Mr. David R. Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context; Ms. Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia; Mr. Joe Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy; Ms. Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Members of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page: Lebanon
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