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Lebanese officials knew of danger before deadly Beirut port explosion, according to Human Rights Watch report

  • A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that officials knew of risks before the deadly August 2020 blast in Beirut.
  • Senior officials failed to act in a timely way to prevent the disaster from happening, the report concluded.
  • The August 2020 blast killed over 200 people and wounded thousands.

A report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday claimed to uncover evidence that suggested some Lebanese government officials knew the storage of ammonium nitrate in a Beirut port could be dangerous prior to last year’s deadly blast

The port explosion — caused by a fire after the improperly stored and combustible ammonium nitrate detonated — killed over 200 people and injured thousands.

The blast leveled city blocks, destroyed apartments, and crippled half of the city’s healthcare centers. The World Bank estimated the explosion caused between $3.8 billion to 4.6 billion in material damage. 

Drawing from official documents and interviews with top officials, the report claims many senior Lebanese leaders — including President Michel Aoun and then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab —  were informed of the risks posed by the explosive material in the port and failed to take any action to protect the public.   

The report says that once informed by Lebanese security, senior officials failed to act in a timely way to prevent the disaster from happening. The report also highlights the alleged failures of a domestic investigation into the blast. 

In a statement posted to Twitter on the eve of the anniversary of the blast on Tuesday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun did not address the accusations, but said that “the truth will emerge, and every sinner will receive his punishment.”

In response to the report, director-general of state security Tony Saliba told Reuters his office did all that was legally possible to warn others, including filing reports. 

According to Human Rights Watch’s report, Some officials, despite acknowledging they knew about the explosive material, said they did not take any action because they believed it was not within their jurisdiction to do so.

Actions and omissions by officials, the report says, created an “unreasonable risk to life,” and the state’s failure to do anything to prevent the disaster is “a violation of the right to life.”

“All of this was done despite repeated warnings about the dangerous nature of ammonium nitrate and the devastating consequences that could follow from its presence in the port,” the Human Rights Watch report says.  

The report called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an investigation into the blast to identify causes and responsibility, and also for foreign governments to impose human rights and corruption sanctions on Lebanese officials.

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