Tuesday September 21, 2021

Obstruction to Beirut blast probe; shameless’: Amnesty

AFP
August 03, 2021

Beirut: Amnesty International on Monday accused the Lebanese authorities of "shamelessly" obstructing the investigation into last year’s monster Beirut port blast, as victims’ families set a deadline for action.

A year after the August 4 explosion that killed more than 200 people and levelled entire neighbourhoods of the city, no official has been brought to justice. The blast, considered one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, was caused by hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in a dockside warehouse.

How the fertiliser got there, why it was so poorly stored for years, and what started the fire that blew it up are questions that the Lebanese probe has yet to answer.

"Lebanese authorities have spent the past year shamelessly obstructing victims’ quest for truth and justice," Amnesty International said in a statement. The explosion was widely seen by victims’ families and the broader public as the result of incompetence and corruption on the part of the ruling class.

Authorities dismissed the first judge who was tasked with investigating the case, after he summoned top officials for questioning. His replacement has also faced obstruction from leading political figures when he also tried to bring in senior politicians and security officials for questioning.

"Given the scale of this tragedy, it is astounding to see how far the Lebanese authorities are prepared to go to shield themselves from scrutiny," Amnesty’s deputy regional director Lynn Maalouf said.

The lack of accountability is blocking compensation and insurance payments to the victims, and has further discredited an already reviled political elite. Relatives of some of the explosion’s victims are planning marches on Wednesday to honour their loved ones, on the first anniversary of the tragedy, and to demand that the parliamentary immunity of some of the chief suspects be lifted.

In a press conference on Monday, they called on authorities to lift immunity within three days, warning that they are willing to "break bones" in upcoming protests unless action is taken. "We are done with routine and peaceful demonstrations... beware our anger," said Ibrahim Hoteit, a spokesperson for victims’ families. "You have 30 hours to sort out the issue of immunities."