Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

Accountability crisis one year after Beirut explosion: AJ Public Liberties speaks to Sahar Mandour

Published on: 5 August, 2021


Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of the catastrophic Beirut port explosion.

More than 217 people were killed and 7,000 injured when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in Beirut’s port on 4 August 2020.

Amnesty published a report, Lebanon, one year on from the port explosion, on Wednesday.

Al Jazeera spoke to Amnesty’s Lebanon researcher Sahar Mandour about the aftermath of the port explosion and the ongoing questions of accountability:

Al Jazeera: Amnesty stated: ‘The Lebanese government tragically failed to protect the lives of its people.’ How did it fail to do so?

Mandour: A year after the explosion, the Lebanese authorities did not answer any of the questions on how and why this explosion happened, nor did it hold accountable any of the authorities that knew about the danger stock of ammonium nitrate in the middle of a highly residential and touristic area and did not order its removal.

The political authority is in a clear confrontation with the judiciary regarding the investigation of the Port explosion. Two MPs summoned to interrogation filed a complaint against the judge who summoned them, Judge Sawan; and, two months later, they won it and the judge was removed, while the MPs continue to benefit from their immunity, in a clear breach of the international law.

The new Judge, Judge Bitar, summoned them for interrogation. The requests are either rejected, still hanging, or subject to stalling and maneuvering. 26 MPs from the ruling parties even went to file a request to transfer the investigation from the Judicial Council and conduct it in, the Council to Try Ministers and Presidents. This council wasn’t ever formed, since the decree that created it in the Taef Agreement in 1989.

Nothing in the official behaviour indictaes that there is a real will to investigate the causes of this explosion. Leaked documents proved from day 1 most of the authorities were warned at least 6 times by security, military, judicial and custom authorities about the dangerous material stocked in Beirut Port and they failed to act. They failed to act then and they are obstructing the investigation now.

Al Jazeera: How can the international community help to alleviate both the accountability crisis and the economic crisis?

Mandour: Regarding the accountability crisis, Amnesty International – along with more than 53 international and local organisations and families of the victims – requested from the Human Rights Council in Geneva to dispatch a one year fact finding mission to investigate the explosion. I think this type of mission is more credible to the Lebanese audience than the ICC’s international investigation, especially after the experience with the investigation of PM Rafic Hariri assassination. Also, this type of mission can put some pressure on the authorities to deal seriously with accountability on the world’s third biggest non-nuclear explosion!

Regarding the economic crisis, we did not research that. But, as we all know, countries who survive on international donor money are fragile and vulnerable to the requests of the donors: the international community can leverage this support t pressure the Lebanese authorities into protecting the right to life and all other social and economic rights severely violated in today’s Lebanon, and ensure accountability for the explosion, corruption and collapse of the country’s economy.

Al Jazeera: In which ways are Lebanese citizens still suffering from the impact of the blast? What will be the most damaging long term impact?

Mandour: Of course, the families who lost loved ones and the persons who were injured and still healing their wounded bodies will live with the heavy impact of this explosion forever. People who lost houses, stores and memories will also live with this loss forever. But, alongside the most harmed, I believe that the most damaging long term impact that unites all of us who experienced the 4th of August in Beirut is the utter loss of safety inside our last resort, our homes.

The psychological and emotionally impact of this explosion can be seen on our faces, yesterday in the protests. We had horrified yet angry faces, utterly sad eyes and we were aching for some safety. People found refuge in each other in yesterday’s protest, but outside this moment of collective grief and revolt, every single person who survived the explosion in Beirut can tell you that their insides are shattered.

The explosion’s echo is still hovering over Beirut, while its rulers are forcing the city to drown in the dark, thirst and extreme poverty. The people of Beirut are traumatized by the third biggest explosion in the world, while surviving the third worst economic crisis in the world.