While on a trip to Lebanon, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation into the August 4, 2020, explosion in Beirut, saying the victims’ families deserve the full truth.
Last year’s explosion ripped through the capital after hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse ignited. It killed at least 218 people and injured thousands more.
According to a report from the Human Rights Watch, officials from several government agencies, including the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, were aware that the ammonium nitrate was being stored next to potentially explosive materials for almost six years and did nothing about it.
Details such as why so much explosive material was being stored and why officials ignored it are still not known despite the Lebanese government having launched an investigation over a year ago.
The official investigation has stalled with no one prosecuted and politicians not cooperating with interrogation requests, NPR reported. Many potential defendants have been looking to remove lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar under accusations of unfairness.
Many victims’ families and survivors have asked for a more transparent investigation.
“I have been receiving messages from many victims claiming for the need of truth to be established, for the need of an independent investigation that is able to produce the truth,” Guterres said. “I fully understand their concerns and I hope that the institutions will be able to guarantee that.”
Standing under the rain, Guterres, who is visiting Lebanon, laid a wreath at a memorial bearing the names of the victims at the Beirut Port site of the explosion.
Later Monday, Guterres tweeted, urging for an impartial and transparent investigation: “The Lebanese people deserve the truth.” And after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, he reiterated his support for the families’ quest for justice.
The local probe, led by Judge Tarek Bitar, has been facing numerous challenges, including criticism by powerful politicians and lawsuits from defendants who have questioned its fairness.
Disagreements over the judge’s work have paralyzed the government, which has not met since October 12 despite the country’s huge economic, financial and political problems. Lebanon’s powerful militant group Hezbollah and two allied groups have demanded that Bitar be replaced.
Guterres urged Lebanon’s political leaders to come together to overcome the country’s multiple crises, particularly the economic meltdown that has sank the once middle-income nation into poverty.
The U.N. chief arrived in Lebanon on Sunday for a three-day visit. He said he is here to express solidarity with the Lebanese people and urged the international community to offer more financial assistance to the country in need of humanitarian assistance.