Beirut blast: UN ignored plea for port disaster evidence

Beirut blast: UN ignored victims' requests for evidence in probe
2 min read
22 November, 2021
More than a year after the deadly Beirut port blast, the UN has failed to respond to three letters sent by the largest legal association of survivors and victims' families.
The Beirut explosion killed at least 219 people in August last year [NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty]

The United Nations repeatedly ignored requests for information to assist with Lebanon's official investigation into the 2020 deadly Beirut blast, the BBC revealed on Monday.

The Beirut Bar Association sent three separate requests to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asking for all available satellite photos taken by member states on the day of the Port of Beirut blast on 4 August 2020, which killed at least 219 people.

They also asked whether the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) had checked the ship that carried the ammonium nitrate cargo that was responsible for the explosion before it docked into Beirut.

The 2,750 tons stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port led to one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, destroying and damaging thousands of homes in Beirut.

"Seven months have passed since the blast and five months since our [last] letter, and unfortunately our letters remain unanswered and unacknowledged," the Beirut Bar Association, which represents nearly 2,000 families and survivors, said in a March 2021 letter to the UN.

The first letter was sent in October 2020 and the latest one in March 2021 but received no reply since.

The UN secretary-general's office assured the BBC that the UN is committed to supporting the Lebanese people and has mobilised to help victims of the blast, but didn't explain why the pleas were ignored.

One week after the explosion, the UN had called for "a prompt and independent investigation that leads to justice and accountability". Victims and researchers said there are still huge questions surrounding how the blast happened.

"Until this day we don't know what caused the explosion, we don't know if it was an intentional act, we don't know if it was caused by negligence, we have no idea," Aya Majzoub, Lebanon Researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the BBC.

The probe into the blast, one of the world's largest non-nuclear explosions, is stalling amid political pressures from powerful factions. A protest against judge Tarek Bitar, who leads the investigation, has led to violent clashes in which seven people died.