Investigation: Excessive force used against Beirut protesters

Enraged over a massive blast in Beirut last week, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital on Saturday to call for accountability and the downfall of the country’s ruling class.

A large number of protesters threw stones and other projectiles. They faced tear gas, rubber bullets, and birdshot fired from shotguns.

Through analysis of videos and images of the security response by the army and men in plain-clothes on the day, and examination of medical documents and interviews with doctors who treated the wounded, Al Jazeera established that security forces violated international standards on the use of force.

The United Nations has set basic principles for the use of force which outline that all other non-coercive means must first be exhausted and security forces must “exercise restraint” and “minimize damage and injury”.

Law enforcement agencies are not allowed to use firearms against people “except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury”, or “to prevent the perpetration of a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life,” and related situations.

But open-source evidence shows these criteria were likely not met on Saturday.

Shots fired from a distance

Saturday’s protest took place in Martyr’s Square, a long rectangular expanse in downtown Beirut, which has the Mohammad al-Amin Mosque, the tomb of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and a building complex on its eastern side, marked on the map below.

Protesters threw rocks at security forces from the areas marked with green arrows. Hundreds did so from the area marked “Tomb”, but were unable to approach security forces across the expanse in front of them due to the difficult, nearly-impassable terrain.

On the other side, soldiers and men in plain-clothes fired a number of different weapons towards protesters.

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