Tolbert discusses hariri trial, witness protection, funding worries
By Sebastien Malo
BEIRUT: The newest high official to enter the ranks of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) reaffirmed in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star this week that despite the raging criticism from the Lebanese public, the court is staying the course on the judicial task it was entrusted with and gearing up to handle its first case.
Registrar David Tolbert, who comes to the tribunal after serving as special adviser to the UN secretary general, said Monday: “My responsibility is to make sure the court is up and running and able to do its judicial work when it’s called on, and I’m pleased to say that I think we’ve made a lot of progress in that regard.”
Tolbert was sworn in Tuesday as the STL’s registrar, which primarily involves administrative responsibilities. He is replacing his predecessor, Robin Vincent, who resigned unexpectedly from his office only six weeks after the opening of the tribunal headquarters last March.
The STL was established to convict those responsible for the killing of former Lebanese Premier and business magnate Rafik Hariri, along with 22 others, on February 14, 2005.
While Tolbert plans to build up on Vincent’s attempt at putting in place premises, a staff, and a budgetary foundation for the STL, his tenure will also be marked by a particular focus on witness protection and public outreach, he said. Tolbert is indeed experienced in the two fields, having been involved in both when he was deputy registrar at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former-Yugoslavia (ICTY), an institution whose work is comparable to that of the STL.
As a result, witness protection is widely seen as Tolbert’s forte by the legal community.
The security of witnesses became a concern at the ICTY when the prosecutor was forced to abandon several charges after a number of frightened witnesses targeted by acts of intimidations refused to give their testimonies. The ICTY’s registry responded by developing sophisticated means for protecting witnesses, an undertaking which fell in part under Tolbert’s responsibility.
“I consider [witness protection] to be one of my most serious responsibilities. It’s something I’ve said a lot of times at the ICTY,” Tolbert said.
Referring to the court’s jurisdiction over terrorism, Tolbert said that the nature of the crimes it is investigating could present an additional challenge to his efforts at securing witnesses. “When you’re dealing with something like, let’s call it organized crime, there may be a bigger challenge to protect witnesses because of the links [those who commit those crimes] may have,” Tolbert said.
“We are taking into account the particularities of Lebanon [in designing a witness protection program],” Tolbert added. “We have the staff here, so it’s a question of implementation,” he added.
As for the public outreach, Tolbert said that he was “very focused” on forging a better understanding of the Hague-based tribunal among the Lebanese public and legal community, with new staff coming on the ground to that effect very soon.
The STL has succeeded on being on everyone’s lips since its founding, but perhaps not for the reasons its leadership hoped for.
The wild political speculation that has surrounded the search for suspects is a testimony of the public’s interest into the STL’s work.
But paradoxically, the court refuses to make public the progress of the case for fear of undermining it.
The tribunal is stuck between its legal imperative to fight impunity and rampant accusations that its operations have the potential to upset the country’s already fragile political balance.
Whatever decision the tribunal reaches, the fallout could have grave political consequences. In 2005, a UN-led inquiry into Hariri’s slaying concluded that Syrian and Lebanese elements were to blame, and earlier this year a report from the German newspaper Der Spiegel alleged that Hizbullah was the current suspect number one.
Either way, at a time when their country is taking a democratic test-drive, many Lebanese who would prefer to have their intense political rivalries camouflaged rather than brought under the spotlight by an STL trial are vocally critical of the tribunal.
Nevertheless, Tolbert is firm in his resolve that the tribunal’s work is essential to a politically sound future for Lebanon.
“[The STL’s role] is a judicial role, which is imperative and important for the country to have a basis for reconciliation. You cannot have, in my view, peace and reconciliation when you have impunity.
“A court like this holds individuals accountable. From our perspective we are looking at individuals … Can we have a stable, a peaceful society, without a addressing this issue? In the end, I don’t think we should be willing to sacrifice justice for peace.”
But the STL has taken more than three years to come together, and critics have said that Tolbert’s predecessor had been moving too slowly toward putting in place a base from which the court’s work could take place.
In May 2008, The Daily Star reported that the opening of the STL would be delayed because the tribunal’s headquarters in The Hague needed to be refurbished over the next year.
A year later, the STL has opened its offices, but it still has no courtroom to hold the trials that are at the core of its mandate, a fact which has put off many of those Lebanese unlearned about the tribunal’s logistical intricacies.
Tolbert was, however, optimistic about the pace at which the registry would address this issue, saying that the courtrooms’ construction is now well on track.
“Our position has been that we would have [the courtrooms] finished by the first quarter of 2010 … I have toured [the construction site] myself, and progress is very good. I am confident that we will be able to inaugurate the court in February-March 2010,” Tolbert said. “Most of the infrastructure is in place.”
Another thorn in the STL’s side has been its lack of funds. This is an issue that has come to characterize most international tribunals, which often depend largely on voluntary contributions to support their operations. The Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone, for instance, struggled with its finances because states were just not showing enough monetary support.
The STL is no exception, although doing comparatively remarkably well, said Tolbert. “I have had some good indications from states already that … they are going to be quite supportive, so I’m quite optimistic about the funding scenario.”
Tolbert did, however, confirm previous reports that the STL is still missing funds needed to meet its budgetary target of $65 million for 2010. But additional funding, he added, is expected to come from the pockets of those states that have already made voluntary contributions to the STL, with the UK, Germany, France, and the Netherlands currently topping the list of donors with contributions of more than $1 million.
“We will certainly reach out to countries from the Middle-East region,” he added when asked about the scarcity of major donors sharing Lebanon’s political sphere – Kuwait being the only one in the Middle East. “But I am not picky about who would support us. I’m looking for support from all quarters.”
Background - خلفية
On 13 December 2005 the Government of the Lebanese Republic requested the UN to establish a tribunal of an international character to try all those who are alleged responsible for the attack of 14 february 2005 that killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others. The United Nations and the Lebanese Republic consequently negotiated an agreement on the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Chronology - Chronologie
Détenus - Detainees - المعتقلون
International Criminal Justice
Videos - فيديو
- Now Lebanon : Crowds Gather to Show Support for International Tribunal, August 4, 2010
- IRIS Institute:La creation du TSL est-elle justifiee? - June 18, 2009
- Al Manar : Interview with Ali Hajj right after his release - April 30, 2009
- Al Manar: Summary of Jamil Al Sayyed's press conference, April 30, 2009
- AFP, Freed Lebanese prisoner speaks out - April 30, 2009
- OTV : exclusive interview with Jamil Sayyed - April 30, 2009
- Al Jazeeera English : Crowds celebrate Hariri suspects'release - April 29, 2009
- OTV : report about Ali el Hajj - March 18, 2009
Liens - Links - مواقع ذات صلة
Frederic Megret, McGill University, 2008. A special tribunal for Lebanon: the UN Security Council and the emancipation of International Criminal Justice
International Center for Transitional Justice Handbook on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, April 10, 2008
Conférence de presse de Nicolas Michel, 19 Sept 2007
Conférence de presse de Nicolas Michel, 27 Mars 2008
Département d'Etat américain
* 2009 Human Rights report
* 2008 Human Rights report
* 2007 Human Rights report
* 2006 Human Rights report
* 2005 Human Rights report
ICG - International Crisis Group
The Hariri Tribunal: Separate the Political and the Judicial, 19 July, 2007. [Fr]
HCSS - Hague Centre for strategic studies
Hariri, Homicide and the Hague
Human Rights Watch
* Hariri Tribunal can restore faith in law, 11 may 2006
* Letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, april 27, 2006
* STL insufficient without wider action to combat impunity
* Liban : le Tribunal de tous les dangers, mai 2007
* Jeu de mecano
Courrier de l'ACAT - Wadih Al Asmar
Le Tribunal spécial pour le Liban : entre espoir et inquiétude
La justice penale internationale pour le Liban : bienfait ou malediction?
Nadim Shedadi and Elizabeth Wilmshurt, Chatham House
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon : the UN on Trial?, July 2007
Issam Michael Saliba, Law Library of Congress
International Tribunals, National Crimes and the Hariri Assassination : a novel development in International Criminal Law, June 2007
Mona Yacoubian, Council on Foreign Relations
Linkages between Special UN Tribunal, Lebanon, and Syria, June 1, 2007