EU Council President Should Push for Beirut Blast Probe

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People clean up after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. 
©AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

European Union Council President, Charles Michel, announced he will be traveling to Beirut to “convey the EU’s solidarity with the people of Lebanon” following the devastating blast at a port warehouse this week. He plans to meet with the Lebanese President, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Prime Minister.

Solidarity with the people of Lebanon is important, but what is urgently needed is assistance to those most affected by the horrific explosion that killed at least 157 people, injured more than 5000, and caused immense damage to hospitals, homes, businesses, and infrastructure. There should also be an international and independent investigation into the blast to hold those responsible to account and to ensure victims are compensated. Ultimately, there needs to be genuine political reform.

While in Beirut, Michel should not only meet with government officials, but more importantly with civil society, including youth movements, medical workers, teachers, and humanitarian organizations. These groups have been working tirelessly in the aftermath of the blast to clear the rubble and provide life-saving assistance to the many victims, all while the Lebanese state watches on the sidelines.

Michel should follow in President Macron’s footsteps and send a clear message that the EU will channel the 33 million Euros pledged by the European Commission, as well as any other EU crisis relief support, through local and international nongovernmental organizations and circumvent the Lebanese government. Due to systemic corruption, the government has squandered billions of dollars in international aid over the years. Michel should also make clear that the EU expects real political reforms to root out corruption and address the grievances of Lebanon’s population, and delivering on such reforms will directly impact future financial support for the government.

Finally, Michel should use his meetings with President Aoun and Prime Minister Diab to insist Lebanon invite international experts to conduct an independent investigation into the blast. President Aoun has rejected calls for an international probe, but given the Lebanese authorities’ historic failure to investigate themselves, Michel should make clear only an international investigation can yield the answers and justice that the Lebanese deserve and are calling for.

The impact of the horrific Beirut blast will be borne by the country’s residents for years to come – they deserve the truth and real reforms. The EU should use its influence to help ensure residents have access to basic rights, including housing, healthcare, and education, and that all the individuals responsible for this horrific blast are held to account.