As It Happens

6 months later, Beirut blast investigation fails to deliver, says researcher

Six months after more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate blew up in Beirut’s port, we’re no closer to learning what caused the blast and who is responsible, says Aya Majzoub.

Investigation paused as fears mount that low-level officials being ‘scapegoated,’ says HRW's Aya Majzoub

A partial view of the devastated Beirut port, taken two days after a massive blast shook the Lebanese capital in early August. (Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

Six months after more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate blew up in Beirut's port, an investigation into what caused the blast and who is responsible has yet to turn up any answers, says Aya Majzoub.

"The investigation so far has failed to deliver any kind of justice or accountability or even answers for some very pressing questions," said Majzoub, the Lebanon and Bahrain Researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

The Aug. 4, 2020 blast killed more than 200 people, injured thousands, and caused damage estimated to be worth billions of dollars. 

Now, a half year later, a government investigation into the explosion has been paused — after charges were laid in December against the caretaker prime minister and three former ministers.

"Instead of submitting to the rule of law and going in for questioning, they refused. And two of the ministers filed a motion to have the judge dismissed," Majzoub told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

'The Lebanese government has failed spectacularly and its obligations after the blast,' says Aya Mazjoub, the Lebanon and Bahrain researcher with Human Rights Watch. (Human Rights Watch)

Now, the entire probe is on ice, with judge Fadi Sawan citing the pandemic as a barrier — a response Majzoub calls "mind-boggling." 

Though Sawan has indicated the investigation will resume on Monday, Majzoub remains skeptical that anything meaningful will be brought to light given the spectre of his replacement hanging over the proceedings. 

"The political establishment who have all publicly united against the investigation, have ... legal tools at their disposal to push for the judge's dismissal or replacement," said Majzoub. 

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about a wave of charges laid against more than three dozen people, including ports and customs officials, whom Majzoub describes as "relatively low-level."

"So our fear is that these individuals who have been arrested so far are being scapegoated," she said, adding that the entire group is facing the same charges, despite their varying roles and responsibilities. 

"We spoke with their lawyers as well, and they detailed some other very worrying due process violations, including the fact that they haven't been able to meet with their clients privately," Majzoub added. 

Workers cleaning debris in Beirut's shopping district in the aftermath of the explosion, which caused billions of dollars worth of damage. (Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

The city of Beirut, meanwhile, continues to struggle to recover from the devastating explosion, which destroyed buildings and left streets covered in rubble and glass. 

"Working class neighbourhoods still look quite devastated and you still see families living in uninhabitable homes," said Majzoub, adding that wealthier neighbourhoods have been able to make use of donations from the Lebanese diaspora and non-governmental organizations to rebuild faster. 

People have been reporting going hungry, lacking medicine, not having appropriate housing. And throughout all of this, the government has just turned a blind eye.- Aya Majzoub

Which brings her to another troubling question: the fate of international aid money, sent to help the city recover. 

"We know that almost three hundred million dollars were donated by international donors to help Lebanon, but much of this money is nowhere to be seen," she said. 

It's more evidence, according to Majzoub, that the government has failed in its essential responsibilities in the aftermath of the explosion. 

"People have been reporting going hungry, lacking medicine, not having appropriate housing. And throughout all of this, the government has just turned a blind eye," she said. 

Written by Kate McGillivray. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?