An Amnesty International investigation has found that Lebanese army and security forces, as well as unidentified men in civilian clothes, shot at unarmed crowds during protests in Beirut that took place in the days following the devastating port explosion.
Amnesty International monitored the largely peaceful protests on August 08 where tear gas, rubber bullets and pump action pellets were fired recklessly into crowds.
The rights organisation have gathered testimony from victims, eyewitnesses and physicians and have verified footage of security forces using force in a reckless and unlawful way.
“With their lives in ruins, and still reeling from the physical and emotional trauma of the explosion, thousands of people took to the streets in Lebanon to call for justice. Instead, state forces shot at and tear-gassed them,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
“Instead of meeting its basic responsibilities towards the thousands of people left homeless and impacted by the blasts, the state seems to be on the attack against its population.
“Lebanese security forces caused several serious injuries, and further eroded the trust of a population already struggling with multiple crises. All those responsible for this outrageous violent conduct must be thoroughly investigated and held to account for their criminal actions.”
Videos verified by Amnesty International’s Crisis Evidence Lab show that there was a punitive shoot-to-harm use of force, indicating authorities intended to punish protesters and dissuade others from protesting.
Analysis also confirmed security force members who were dressed in civilian clothes had fired into crowds.
Amnesty International interviewed six protesters who were in downtown Beirut on August 08 when the crackdown escalated. They all reported seeing security and military forces shooting rubber bullets and tear gas canisters directly into the crowd at chest level and from close range, indicating that they were shooting to harm.
Doctors have reported at least six cases of eye injuries. All of the injured were aged between 18 and 21, and had been hit in the eyes with pellets.
The medical team at the Department of Ophthalmology at the American University of Beirut removed the eye of one young man completely, while others lost their sight to varying degrees.
One doctor told Amnesty International: “We did six open eye operations on Tuesday following to the explosion, and six open eye operations on Saturday following the protests. The first six were injured by glass, the second six by pellets.”
Under international guidelines, rubber bullets may only be used as a targeted tool to stop individuals engaged in violence, and should never be fired indiscriminately into crowds, as they can cause serious injury. In addition, they may only ever be aimed at the lower part of the body with a view to minimizing injury.
“Lebanon’s security forces fired a range of weapons in a way that was solely intended to harm people. To do this in the aftermath of a national tragedy is just cruelty beyond belief,” said Lynn Maalouf.
Security forces and riot police also recklessly fired tear gas canisters into the crowds from launchers, causing several serious injuries.
Tear gas canisters fired from launchers can cause serious harm. Tear gas should only be used in situations of widespread violence for the purpose of dispersing a crowd, and only when all other means to contain the violence have failed.
“It is unlawful to use tear gas if the canister is fired directly at a person. The horrific injuries sustained by protesters are no doubt a result of security forces setting out to deliberately hurt people,” said Lynn Maalouf.
To date, all security and military agencies’ statements have denied any responsibility. One member of the Lebanon Internal Security Forces died in circumstances that remain unclear. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)