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UN experts call for 'effective investigation' into Hezbollah critic's murder

UN officials say government should seek international technical assistance in probe into killing of Lokman Slim
A memorial ceremony for Lokman Slim in garden of family residence in Beirut, 11 February (AFP)

UN human rights experts have raised concerns over the integrity of the Lebanese government's probe into the murder of prominent Hezbollah critic Lokman Slim, calling for a "credible and effective investigation" to bring the killers to justice.

In a statement released on Monday, UN officials said the probe by the Lebanese government has "led to no meaningful result" and urged Beirut to consider requesting international technical assistance in the investigation.

The experts include UN rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard; Diego Garcia-Sayan, special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; and Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

"The government should urgently implement measures to guarantee the independence and the impartiality of the investigation and ensure that those responsible are identified and held accountable," the experts said in a joint statement.

"This is essential to ensure justice is delivered and to build public trust in the national judicial system before it is irremediably compromised."

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Slim, a public intellectual and political advocate who often criticised Hezbollah, was killed in early February. He was shot multiple times in a rental car in south Lebanon, an area where the Iran-backed group has partial security control.

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Hezbollah has denied involvement in the assassination.

On Monday, the UN experts noted that Slim had been raising questions over the Beirut port explosion that killed hundreds of people in August. They said he had faced repeated threats before his death.

"The government had an obligation to take all steps that could be reasonably expected to protect Mr Slim’s safety. Failure to have done so could engage the state’s responsibility for violation of his right to life," the experts said.

"We call on the government to ensure the effective protection of all persons that may currently be at risk of targeted violence for reasons related to their work or because of their opinions."

Hezbollah and its allies have a strong influence on the Lebanese government, including the security forces tasked with conducting the probe. Slim's widow has called for an international investigation.

Despite laws protecting freedom of speech, the assassination of journalists, activists and government officials have been a regular feature of Lebanon's politics throughout its modern history. Past investigations into political murders have seldom produced results or led to convictions.

The country has been going through economic and political crises over the past few years, with the Lebanese pound losing more than 85 percent of its value since October 2019.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned days after the port explosion in August, but he remains in power on an interim basis. 

Efforts to form a new government by designated premier Saad Hariri have failed over recent months amid an impasse with President Michel Aoun over representation in the cabinet.

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