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UN Geneva round-up: one year after Beirut blast, torture in Iraq, Belarusian activist found dead

Relatives of those who died in last year’s blast at Beirut port protest in front of the Justice Palace in Beirut on 23 July, 2021. (Credit: Keystone/AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

A summary of the most critical issues being discussed at the United Nations in Geneva this week.

One year on, Lebanon still struggling. One year after the explosion of the port of Beirut, Lebanon is still reeling from the tragedy that killed over 200 people and injured more than 6,000. Affected families are still struggling to get justice and reparation as investigations into the incident from 4 August have been paused.

Through her spokesperson Marta Hurtado, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed the need for the Lebanese government “to ensure a transparent, effective, thorough and impartial investigation” and to hold those responsible to account.

Asked by reporters at a press briefing on Tuesday if the recent appointment of billionaire businessman Najib Mikati as Lebanon’s new prime minister could mean a restart of investigations, Hurtado said: “We do hope that the political advances on the political front would help finally achieve some accountability.”

In a report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused authorities of foiling investigations and called for sanctions against those involved and an international probe by the UN Human Rights Council.

The country is also facing soaring levels of food insecurity and poverty, worsened by the blast, weakening local currency and  the Covid pandemic, World Food Programme spokesperson Tomson Phiri told reporters in Geneva. Refugees, who make up a quarter of the population, are the worst hit, Phiri said. Over 90 per cent of the Syrian refugee population are food insecure.

The WFP has launched a grant programme to support food-related small and medium-sized enterprises, such as butcheries, bakeries and supermarkets, and needs $107.4 million for the next year.

Detainees tortured in Iraq. Torture and ill-treatement of detainees in Iraq’s prisons is still widespread, despite legal strides to prevent the practice, according to a UN report from Tuesday. The joint publication by the UN Assistance Mission on Iraq and the UN Human Rights Office states that requirements, such as the 24 hour detention limit prior to seeing a judge, access to a lawyer and to medical attention, are often not respected.

The middle-eastern country has introduced a complaints mechanism for victims but according to the findings, authorities often ignore signs or allegations. “The laws are there but they are not being implemented,” Hurtado told the press.

Belarusian activist found hanged sparks worry. Marta Hurtado said that the UN Human Rights Office was concerned about the situation in Belarus, after it was reported on Tuesday that Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov was found hanged in a park in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he was living in exile.

Shishov, who led an organisation that helped Belarusians fleeing persecution, had been reported missing by his partner on Monday. Hurtado stressed that at this stage it was not known if the incident was connected to the crackdown against dissident voices in Belarus. Ukrainian authorities have opened a murder investigation. “We hope the [Ukrainian] authorities are going to conduct a thorough, impartial and effective investigation on what happened,” she said.