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International justice for Lebanon? | Beirut explosion



The August 4 explosion at the Port of Beirut not only killed more than 170 people, injured thousands of others, and left at least 300,000 people homeless, but it also dashed the Lebanese people’s hopes for a better future for their country.

This is why, I, alongside 36 other United Nations Special Rapporteurs and independent experts, issued a statement earlier this month calling for an independent and transparent investigation into the explosion that underscores international human rights obligations, clarifies responsibilities related to the explosion, and leads to justice and accountability. I am also acutely aware of what is at stake since my immediate family was hit by the blast, sustaining life-threatening injuries and losing their livelihoods.

In our joint statement, my colleagues and I urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to hold a special debate on the Port of Beirut explosion when the council reconvenes in September so as to explore all avenues by which this leading international human rights body can support the people in Lebanon and help them meet their needs and demands.

There are several reasons why we believe the UNHRC should play a leading role in the efforts to ensure that effective, transparent and impartial justice is realised for the victims of the explosion, and people in Lebanon at large.

Like scores of Lebanese and international civil society organisations, we do not trust the Lebanese government’s ability to conduct an efficient and transparent investigation into its own failures. Therefore, we believe only an international and truly independent investigation can achieve the desired results. 

As we noted in our statement, the investigation into the explosion should not only be protected from any undue influence, but it should also have “a strong and broad mandate to effectively probe any systemic failures of the Lebanese authorities and institutions to protect human rights.” 

Unlike an investigation led by the Lebanese government, an international investigation mandated by the UNHRC could go beyond finding the individuals directly culpable for the explosion and address the systemic collapse of Lebanese governance that paved the way for the blast.

When faced with calls for an international investigation into the blast, Lebanese elites raised concerns about foreign powers meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs and using the blast to push their own agenda. 

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun, for example, rejected calls for an international investigation just a few days after the devastating blast, on the grounds that such an effort would “dilute the truth”. Lebanon’s caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm also dismissed calls for an international probe, asserting that she does not want to “create a system where every time there is an important issue I go to the international”.

The Lebanese people’s lack of trust in local judicial authorities undoubtedly justifies the calls to involve international institutions and bodies in a probe into the explosion. However, the concerns about the possibility of foreign governments using an international probe to serve their own interests should not be dismissed as baseless either. 

The Lebanese people have previously witnessed how seemingly well-meaning international inquiries – such as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon established by the UN Security Council – could end up serving narrow geopolitical interests and ignoring wider calls for justice. 

So when French President Emmanuel Macron calls for an international inquiry into the explosion, the Lebanese people should be suspicious of his intentions. After all, France was the former colonial power that institutionalised the sectarian system that is at the root of Lebanon’s current problems. And it is still working to expand its influence over Lebanon today. Last year, for example, the French government was the main player behind the CEDRE proposal, in which a mix of international institutions and countries pledged to give Lebanon $11bn in loans and grants on the condition that it implement certain reforms. On the surface, the proposal seems to be aimed at helping the people of Lebanon. But under closer inspection, it becomes clear that its primary aim is to give international lenders, especially France and the World Bank, a significant amount of power over political and economic life in Lebanon. 

The international community has failed Lebanon too often. For too long it left the Lebanese people searching for justice and a better future with a choice between relying on faulty and corrupt local mechanisms and international efforts guided by vested interests. But this does not mean that the international system lacks the capacity to conduct a truly impartial probe into Lebanon’s August 4 explosion that is not shadowed by powerful governments’ hidden agendas and interests. To achieve this, countries with a vested interest in Lebanon – such as France, the United States, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and China – would need to step back, and allow a multilateral process guided by an impartial international body and based on human rights principles to take its course. 

As Special Rapporteurs, who work on a voluntary basis and are independent from any government or organisation, we believe the UNHRC is well placed to give the Lebanese people what they desperately need. 

While we know the Council has the capacity to mandate an international investigation that would meet the Lebanese people’s demands for transparency and impartiality, we are also aware of how political pressures can cloud such a process. 

Just a few months ago in June, amid the Black Lives Matter uprising in the US, a bloc of African countries pressed the Council to hold an urgent debate on racism, police brutality and violence against protesters. During the debate, some delegates called for an international probe to investigate racially motivated police brutality in the US. However, due to pressure from the US and its many allies, the Council failed to efficiently address the problem and merely adopted a vague resolution calling for a report on racially discriminatory and violent law enforcement practices used against Africans and people of African descent, without specifically naming the US. 

Only time will tell whether the UNHRC will be able to lead the way in the Lebanese people’s quest to bring justice to the victims of the explosion and hold the people responsible to account. 

To mandate an international investigation into the Port of Beirut explosion, the Council needs at least one country to officially put forward such a request. If a group of countries backs the proposal, it will send the message that the international community is ready and willing to help Lebanon in its time of need. 

Come September, the Lebanese people will see whether the messages of solidarity and concern issued by world governments in the aftermath of the devastating explosion were honest. If the UNHRC successfully mandates an independent investigation into the matter and ensures that the investigation is conducted in a transparent and impartial manner, it will give the Lebanese people renewed hope for their country’s future. But if it buckles under political pressure and takes no action, or accepts a watered-down resolution, it will confirm the fears that the international community is incapable of furthering an impartial human rights agenda.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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FDC activists win Bank of Uganda pig case by simply keeping quiet




FDC activists Augustine Ojobile and Robert Mayanja

Buganda Road Magistrate’s court has acquitted two opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) activists Augustine Ojobile and Robert Mayanja of common nuisance charges.

FDC deputy chief administrative officer Ojobile and Mayanja have been acquitted by the grade one magistrate Fidelis Otwao on charges stemming from their protest held in November 2018 when they carried pig heads to the central police station (CPS) in Kampala protesting the rot in the Bank of Uganda that had reportedly resulted into the closure of a number of commercial banks in the country for many years.

According to them, corruption at the Central bank had been the sole ingredient for the closure of commercial banks in Uganda over the years because it reportedly mismanaged them and made erroneous decisions that led to their closure.

With fresh pig heads tied around their necks and stinking blood oozing across their white T-shirts, Mayanja and Ojobile walked through the streets of Kampala to the police in a protest that was spearheaded by their pressure group known as the Jobless Youth.

One pig head had a placard bearing the name of the former and late BOU governor Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile and the other of his former deputy Louis Kasekende.

The protest at CPS came a few days after another that was staged at the Central bank where two piglets were dumped bearing the name of Juma Kisaame (a Muslim), the former managing director of DFCU bank. 

As a result, the duo was arrested and taken to Buganda Road court on charges of common nuisance and the prosecution adduced evidence from five witnesses who included police officers and Muslims who were reportedly angered by the protest.

According to the witnesses, the actions of Mayanja and Ojobile were annoying to the people whose names were mentioned and tagged on pig heads, and the smell that was coming out of the fresh pig heads was most likely to result in injury to a considerable number of the public by affecting their health, and the protest affected businesses since some shops allegedly had to close to see what was happening outside due to their commotion.

But when Mayanja and Ojobile were asked to defend themselves over the allegations, the duo that didn’t have legal representation chose to keep quiet as their defense and let the court make its decision based on what the prosecution witnesses had testified to.

In a judgement read today Friday by Otwao, he indicated that the evidence from the prosecution witnesses is wanting because none of the people alleged to have been annoyed by the actions of the activists testified in the case or recorded a statement with police.

According to Otwao, the testimonies were based on what the witnesses were feeling as individuals and that there were no abusive statements on the pig heads that the prosecution had indicated which would cause annoyance, save for putting the names of people only. 

As such, the court has ruled that such testimonies cannot be relied on to convict a person because the prosecution has failed to prove that there was common injury, danger to the public or destruction of property.

Consequently, the magistrate has acquitted the duo and directed that each of them starts the process to seek a refund of the Shs 500,000 that each had paid to be released on bail.

The activists have welcomed the ruling saying that the court has recognized that the citizens have a right to protest peacefully.

The pig protests have been commonly used by activists who subscribe to this group known as the Jobless Brotherhood which has since rebranded to the “Alternative”.

In 2016, their members including Luta Ferdinand who is now facing trial in the court-martial on different charges, and Joseph Lukwago were arrested for dumping piglets at parliament protesting the Shs 200 million given to each MP for buying personal cars.

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Saudi Arabia executes 81 people in a single day | Death Penalty News




The death penalty applied for a range of charges in the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom’s modern history.

Saudi Arabia has executed 81 men over the past 24 hours, including seven Yemenis and one Syrian national, on charges including “allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations” and holding “deviant beliefs”, state news agency Saudi Press Agency said, in the largest known mass execution carried out in the kingdom in its modern history.

The number dwarfed the 67 executions reported in the kingdom in 2021 and the 27 in 2020.

“These individuals … were convicted of various crimes including murdering innocent men, women and children,” SPA said on Saturday, citing a statement from the interior ministry.

“Crimes committed by these individuals also include pledging allegiance to foreign terrorist organisations, such as ISIS [ISIL], al-Qaeda and the Houthis,” it added.

Some travelled to conflict zones to join “terrorist organisations”, according to the SPA.

“The accused were provided with the right to an attorney and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process,” it said.

“The kingdom will continue to take a strict and unwavering stance against terrorism and extremist ideologies that threaten the stability of the entire world,” the report added.

The men included 37 Saudi nationals who were found guilty in a single case for attempting to assassinate security officers and targeting police stations and convoys, the report added.

Saudi Arabia’s last mass execution was in January 2016, when the kingdom executed 47 people, including a prominent opposition Shia leader who had rallied demonstrations in the kingdom.

In 2019, the kingdom beheaded 37 Saudi citizens, most of them minority Shia, in a mass execution across the country for alleged “terrorism”-related crimes.

Saudi Arabia’s human rights records have been under increasing scrutiny from rights groups and Western allies since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

It has faced strong criticism of its restrictive laws on political and religious expression, and the implementation of the death penalty, including for defendants arrested when they were minors.

Saudi Arabia denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security according to its laws.

SPA said the accused were provided with the right to a lawyer and were guaranteed their full rights under Saudi law during the judicial process.

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Nigerian student in Ukraine: 'Mummy we keep hearing bombs'




Hauwa’s son Suleiman is a Nigerian student in Sumy – she says the family are fearful and anxious.

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