This blog of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) aims at granting the public opinion access to all information related to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon : daily press review in english, french and arabic ; UN documents, etc...

Ce blog du
Centre Libanais des droits humains (CLDH) a pour objectif de rendre accessible à l'opinion publique toute l'information relative au Tribunal Spécial pour le Liban : revue de presse quotidienne en anglais, francais et arabe ; documents onusiens ; rapports, etc...


July 22, 2010 - Now Lebanon - Bittersweet justice

Could indictments for Hariri’s murder destroy internal stability?

Paige Kollock,

Head of Defense Office Francois Roux and associate Legal Officer Anne-Marie Burns sit during a public hearing in the courtroom of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in The Hague. (AFP photo / Pool/Valerie Kuypers)
The credibility of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the court tasked with investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is under attack by Hezbollah. On Friday, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared the court bogus and said that any indictments handed down by Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare would be unsound and part of an Israeli plot to undermine the party.

The STL has not made any indication that it would implicate members of Hezbollah, nor has it even set a date for the indictments (though Western media reports point to the month of September), so why is Hezbollah getting so hot under the collar?

Some say the party is forecasting the worst, trying to create a scenario whereby, if its members are indicted, it has already soundly discredited the court. Others say it is leaping on a chance to gain control by creating discord among the Lebanese leadership.

Regardless of Hezbollah’s motives, if its fears are realized and the court does accuse party members, the affect will be felt by all Lebanese, and the current period of stability Lebanon is enjoying will be jeopardized.

Hezbollah’s fears are not unfounded. Media reports in the newspapers Der Spiegel and Le Figaro have suggested Hezbollah members would be indicted, and recently, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Gaby Ashkenazi discussed the involvement of Hezbollah in the assassination.

“Moreover, some elements of Hezbollah were called in for questioning. All of these factors explain the suspicions that members of Hezbollah would be indicted,” said journalist and analyst Kassem Kassir.

It is important for Hezbollah to remember that the court was established in 2006 by an agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic, said Fares Soueid, Coordinator of the March 14th General Secretariat, which signed off on the tribunal. “It was a Lebanese call for international justice; it was not an American intervention.”

Since its establishment, the court has faced several setbacks, including resignations and the release of four Lebanese generals originally implicated in the Hariri murder for lack of sufficient evidence. Now Prosecutor Bellemare is poised to make formal accusations, but Hezbollah seems to be forecasting them prematurely, a move some officials say is dangerous for the country.

“We thought we had entered a national-unity government, and that internal conditions had become reconciled. But suddenly we discover that Hezbollah has returned to the previous political tone, that of threats,” Future Bloc MP Ahmed Fatfat told NOW Lebanon.

“It is as though they are saying that those who do not follow their political line of thinking are traitors, and this is something very dangerous because… it destroys the national reconciliation that was built around the talks in 2006 in which Hezbollah agreed to comply with the tribunal.”

With tension rising over Bellemare’s pending decisions, President Michel Sleiman held a series of talks on Tuesday with Lebanon’s top officials aimed at diffusing Hezbollah’s condemnation of the STL. But now that Hezbollah has laid down the gauntlet, Prime Minister Saad Hariri is in a tough position.

“Hezbollah is afraid, and they are trying to put the Lebanese society in a blackmail between justice and civil peace. They are trying to say to Prime Minister Hariri, ‘if you want to keep the civil peace in Lebanon, you have to fight against the tribunal,’” said Soueid.

Denouncing the tribunal could make Hariri look as though he is cowing to Hezbollah’s interests for the sake of maintaining stability, even though he has a personal interest in seeing justice carried out against his father’s assassins.

“He is caught between two decisions: the decision to commit to the issuing of an indictment by the tribunal, and the decision to preserve internal stability,” said Kassim.
One way out of this Catch-22, Kassim says, “would be for Hariri to consider the indicted [if they are indeed Hezbollah members] unaffiliated with the party.”

Another question on the minds of Lebanese leaders is, if key Hezbollah members are indicted, how can the party remain a trustworthy member of the government. Would simply dismissing the findings convince the Lebanese population, or might Hezbollah resort to violence?

“The situation here is tense. Most everyone is expecting some kind of clash at some time possibly coming up,” said Judith Harik, a professor of Political Science at AUB and the author of a book about Hezbollah. The party’s fiery rhetoric over the recently-discovered spies inside the Alfa phone network shows they are tense, she said. “Even if the Hezbollah leadership does nothing,” choosing not to repeat a May 7 scenario, “the party’s supporters may get violent.”

As for Syria, it has said it will accept the findings if any of its nationals are indicted, but will carry out justice domestically, a markedly different approach from Hezbollah. Journalist Emad Marmar, who works for Hezbollah-run Al-Manar TV, recently wrote that Syria cannot abandon Hezbollah in light of how the party stood beside Damascus in 2006, but others say Syria is intent on maintaining its political survival at any cost.

Still, all of these outcomes could prove moot. The tribunal opened in 2009 with an initial three-year budgetary mandate. Since Lebanon is funding a large chunk (49 percent) of the court, if the indictments are delayed until next year, there could be a situation in which the Lebanese parliament must vote on whether or not to renew that funding, a decision March 8 would likely vote against.

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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.

Liens - Links - مواقع ذات صلة

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, David Schenker , March 30, 2010 . Beirut Spring: The Hariri Tribunal Goes Hunting for Hizballah

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

United Nations
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

Amnesty International
* 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

Georges Corm
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